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.


  1. For myself, I think the #1 universal technique to develop is a calm,clear mind. That's enough to help you manage any situation.

  2. Hey Journeyman.

    I remember clowning around with my brother and a strobe light. I learned pretty quick that unless it is set to the highest strobe setting, you have nearly no chance to block or intercept punches, and only slightly better odds with kicks. So right away I covered my head and attacked in bursts of 100% offense.

    Of course, we were only goofing off and it wasn't real sparring of any stretch, but thinking back, it seems like this would probably work under training conditions too.

    1. I think I as drunk when I wrote the above comment (or edited it rather sloppily). What I meant to say was that BLOCKING was nearly useless unless the strobe is set on the fastest setting.

  3. Rick,

    I can't argue with that. Very true.


    As you usually do, you make a good point and you make me chuckle. Thanks.