Friday, September 28, 2012

Low-Light Training

In my last post on training blindfolded, I touched on the use of low light training to improve your ability to prepare, and survive, a violent encounter.

Making training as realistic as possible is never easy.  Short of ‘surprise attacking’ training partners outside of the dojo, it can be tough to create, or recreate, the elements present in a real attack. (not everyone has a Cato…)

Training in low light conditions is one of the best ways to mimic many of the dynamic and challenging aspects of responding to an unanticipated or unscripted attack.

Most real attacks contain an element of surprise.  Very few perpetrators make their intentions fully known.  No attack, outside those of testosterone and booze fuelled acts of bravado, start with two people squaring off with each other.

Knowing this, we need to develop methods of training to respond to these ‘advantage-to-attacker’ scenarios. 

Dealing with spontaneous attacks:

Frankly, if someone manages to take you completely by surprise and undetected, there’s not much anyone can do, other than fighting back after the attack lands, assuming you’re in a condition to do so.

In most situations, and if you work on awareness as part of your training, there will be some hint that an attack is coming.  Unlike the blindfolded training discussed in my last article, you will most detect some of the cues, such as a flash of movement. 

The challenge, then, is how best to respond to these cues.  In ‘standard’ training as I’ll call it, your attacker is standing fact to face with you.  When he/she attacks, you often know what attack is coming in advance.  Even if you don’t, you may have enough time to identify exactly what type of attack is coming at you.

In a spontaneous attack, however, you don’t have these luxuries.  Your goal should be just to recognize that an attack is coming your way.  The loftier goal should be to be aware enough that you’ve extricated yourself from potentially dangerous situations before they ever got that far, but this isn’t always realistic.

Knowing that very few criminals are looking for a fair fight should impact our training.  Responding to a flash of movement is problematic in a well-lit dojo or training hall.  This is where low-light training can prove invaluable. 

Slowly reducing the light gives you an opportunity to gradually respond to less than ideal situations.  The darker it gets, the more you have to utilize and develop “universal” techniques.  It is much easier to come up with a response to an attack you’ve identified in advance than it is to respond to blurry or hard to see movements.

Low-light training allows you to gradually acclimatize, and inoculate yourself, to some of the conditions you may face in a real violent encounter.  While it is unlikely that you will be completely blinded, it is more than likely that your sight will be somewhat compromised.  Remember too, that getting hit in the nose will cause your eyes to tear up uncontrollably, reducing your ability to see. 

Low-light training has many of the same benefits of blindfold training, without the complete loss of one of your senses.  You must combine ‘feel’ with visual cues.  You will find, just as with blind folded training, that movement and balance must be mastered to be successful.

Universal Techniques:

There’s no such thing of course, but low-light training will illustrate the need for developing strategies, and techniques, that will give you the greatest chance for weathering the initial attack.

If you’ve read this blog for a while, you’ll know the value I put into what I call ‘crashing’ in on your attacker, while protecting your most valuable asset, your head.  Protecting your knockout button on your chin/jaw and those all-important eyes are extremely important. 

This applies mostly to striking attacks, but this same movement pattern can be very effective against most grabs as well.  Practicing crashing into your opponent in lit conditions first is a good idea too, to gauge distance and timing (and so you don’t hurt them when the lights go down).

For low-light training, I recommend your opponent wear headgear as the likelihood of you making contact is quite high when crashing in.

Experiment in low-light training and you’ll realize the need for this ‘universal’ technique or concept.  It’s easy to misread or misjudge an incoming attack when the light is very low.  Get tagged a few times and you’ll realize the need to cover up while getting into a position to better respond/defend/attack.  If you do get hit, don’t let that stop you from responding.  One of the biggest predictors of success is your willingness to fight back, regardless of the quality of your technique.  Once you’ve survived or successfully countered the initial attack, move into your response.

If you have access to strobe lights, add them to low-light training as well.  The rapid flashing distorts your ability to track motion and judge distance and timing.  Similar to blind folded and low-light training, you’ll have to rely on all your senses to respond.  Again, when you can’t judge speed and distance, you’ll need the “universal” technique to avoid being clobbered.

If you can, add in loud noises as well.  A recording of a jack hammer or even loud music will do the trick.  This added distraction further hinders your ability to make sense of things easily, just as the stress of a real attack can do.

When you train in low-light conditions, you’ll discover that this type of combat will provide you will valuable tools to prepare yourself for real violence.  It’s a form of stress inoculation as well, which is always good.  Low-light training will trigger the ‘been there, done that’ center of your brain, allowing for a faster and more effective response to a real attack.

You will not likely ever be attacked in ‘ideal’ conditions, so make sure that not all your training is done in one.

Give low-light training a try.  Let me know your results.

Train safely and with an open mind.  Good luck.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Blindfold Training - Taking Training to the Next Level

Training blindfolded is always an interesting experience.  And it’s quite telling.  If you want to know where you’re smooth and where you’re sloppy, throw on a blindfold and train.

You’ll find out which techniques are truly ingrained and which ones you need to work on. 

To simplify, there are 3 broad levels when assessing your skill level:
Level I 

These are the techniques you know really well.  Even blindfolded, you execute them smoothly with little or no hesitation.  There’s a reason for the saying “I know it so well I could do it blindfolded”.  You are smooth, quick and near instinctual.

Level II 

These are the techniques you know quite well but haven’t quite burned into your ‘auto-response’ center.  These are the ones where you hesitate before applying.  Your mind's eye takes a bit of time to ‘see’ your attacker before responding.  This stage is often also marked by bigger or sloppier movements.  A strike may land off target slightly, a lock might miss the joint by a little bit, or the person you’re throwing may get dragged over and unceremoniously dumped onto the ground instead of right at your feet.

Level III 

These are the ones that are really messy.  You pause, try to figure out what attack you’re receiving, where you attacker is and what to do.  Often people freeze a bit, miss techniques or get all caught up or trip over themselves or their opponent.

Obviously, we should all strive for level I or better. 

Working backwards, you may be able to do the techniques from level III quite well when you can see.  Your response, however, is controlled mainly by your one sense, sight.  These are the techniques you need to examine to identify the feel, balance etc. 

Level II techniques are interesting.  Your brain has accepted them and knows them quite well, but you haven’t given all the non-sight based elements enough study.  It’s time to examine those elements more deeply, in practice and also through mental rehersal.  Low light training can be a valuable method for bridging the gap between being pretty good and truly ingraining the techniques.  If you have access to lights that can dim, even better.  As you progress, you can turn down the lights more and more.

Level I – keep doing what you’re doing.  Keep improving till your response is truly instinctual and instant.


Training blindfolded can be very challenging, for you and for your training partner.  Some attacks are easier to respond to, such as a grab, headlock or bear hug. Obviously, it is more difficult to defend against strikes, especially if there’s no pre-emptive grab.  It can be done, but it takes a high level of skill and a long time. 

For training purposes, start with techniques such as grabs, chokes, headlocks and bearhugs and progress to ‘grab and hit’ attacks.  This is where you start to feel where your opponent is, detect when they shift their balance, feel the tensing of their muscles etc.

So how can you train to deal with the ‘non grab and hit’ attacks?

This is where the low light training can be especially valuable.  In fact, the proper use of low light training can drastically increase your chances of surviving real world unanticipated attacks.

In my next post, I'll explain why this is so and how to go about doing it.

Train well.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

A Deeper Understanding: Is Your Art Battle Tested?

A Deeper Understanding.

So many things to talk about.  What a month!  I was away from blogging for longer than I expected, but in hindsight, it was a nice refreshing break.  I did actually manage to completely un-plug from all things electronic for over a week.  No news, no television, no internet.  It was very freeing, and a little unnerving.

I’ve had some great and intense martial arts training and experiences followed by a complete break as well, which is also good for mind and body.

I can’t fit everything into one post, so I’ll touch on one highlight.

I had the opportunity to train with a master of ‘Classical Jiu Jitsu’.  Now I often refer to ‘traditional’, but I’ve not often heard of ‘classical’ being used to describe the art very often.  I do understand the difference between modern, or ‘gendai’ systems and more traditional ones, and I do know that my own style is heavily influenced by the small circle theory, but I got the opportunity to explore the ‘classical’ side a bit more.

At the end of the day, of course, it doesn’t really matter what you call it, good Jiu Jitsu is good Jiu Jitsu, but I did get to make some interesting observations.  In experiencing this master’s style, I was able to gain a deeper understanding of my own style, and that of many martial arts, I suspect.

On the surface, there are some fairly obvious differences in the way techniques are applied.  Bigger motions here, smaller ones there, emphasis on this or that, but nothing more than you might see from Sensei to Sensei, or school to school.

Two major things did stand out though:

#1.  In classical Jiu Jitsu, the ending of a technique was normally the complete destruction of your opponent.  This stems from the very fact that the techniques contained in the classical system are as closely connected to true ‘kill or be killed’ nature of the battle field of feudal times. 

Many of the techniques adapted for more modern styles contain more options.  You can more easily choose to control first, then break, then maim etc.  There is a more escalating scale of options.  There are fewer of these options in a more classical style. 

The movements also tended to target larger areas, or entire limbs, a throwback to the need to deal with armored opponents, with a focus on the areas that remained vulnerable, such as joints.

So, modern styles may contain more options, and have been adapted to deal with modern realities, which are arguably a benefit, but the classical roots are still there. 

Which brings me to my second major observation:

#2.  We have altered many more destructive techniques to allow for safer training.  This may seem obvious, but it goes deeper than that. 

We alter techniques to allow us to apply them to our training partners.  That makes sense.  You can’t train if you’re injured.  Many techniques end with a break-fall, a roll or a tap.  What some practitioners may not know is that the ‘original’ or ‘classical’ systems often simply did not contain an opportunity for any of these things.

Many of the throws and techniques illustrated (notice I didn’t say demonstrated) did not allow the opponent to break-fall, or to ‘go with it’.  After the illustration, the technique was then adapted, or altered, and demonstrated on the uke, to allow them to, well, survive it. 

I realized that this doesn’t just apply to Jiu Jitsu, it applies to most martial arts with classical roots.

I can’t say these concepts are completely new to me, but I’m now realizing just how many areas have been adjusted in modern styles.  This is not a criticism, just an observation.  Having a more scalable set of options in an advantage in many ways, considering our modern times and legal considerations. Also, this doesn't mean that the altered, or 'softened' techniques aren't effective.  They still work.

It is important, however, to understand the original, or ‘parent’ techniques, to obtain a deeper understanding of your chosen art, whichever one that may be.

I hope everyone has had a great summer.  Train well.