Monday, November 5, 2012

Tough Questions About Training

You've just had a great session training in your martial art.  You worked up a good sweat, you worked the heavy bag, you drilled your blocks, strikes and stances. Maybe you sparred or did kata, or both. You nailed all of it.  You're on a post workout high, all those feel good endorphins running through your veins.  It was a good night.  Not a night to question what you're doing.  Or is it?

From time to time you've got to ask yourself some tough questions about your training.  Did that fantastic workout get you any closer to your goals?  Assuming your goals are self defense and preservation, that is.  

So here's the tough question.  Do any of your training methods answer to the type of risk or attack you might face in the street?  

All of the aforementioned training methods have some value, but they must be applied properly, or realistically.

Take the heavy bag.  Sure it's got lots of benefits, but are multiple combinations of punches and kicks really responding the the realities of an attack?  How many punches and kicks can you actually expect to land in a real encounter?  How likely is it that you'll land more than one, and if you do, once you add in the dynamic of movement, where are your strikes going to land?  You could easily injure your hands, feet and shins, even breaking them if you catch your opponent's hard parts.

Sparring?  Well, sparring is great too, but it's not real fighting.  No one bounces back and forth for extended periods of time playing tag and stopping once they land a technique.

Kata?  The core of many martial arts.  Misunderstood, there's not much value to them, from a self defense standpoint.  Understood, yes there are self defense benefits, but many just go through the motions.  Sadly, most kata is so exacting and inflexible in it's execution, it can be challenging to learn how to respond to anything other than a 'perfect' attack.  And some of those scripted attacks on which kata is developed are unrealistic in the first place.  It's easy to get lost in the minutia and miss out on the concepts contained therein.  

Stances?  You need some form of stance for all you do, but to root into one for long periods of time will do little to assist you in a constantly changing assault.  

Blocks, strikes and kicking drills.  All good too, however in a real encounter, after the first block or strike or combo, you'd best be moving to a position of advantage, to get away or as a set up for the next technique.  

So, throw away all your training methods?  

Of course not.  Just adapt or adjust them to match the real world.  There is now nearly unlimited access to actual assaults that have been recorded on the internet.  Watch how they happen.  Put yourself in the shoes of the person that was attacked.  What would you/could you do to respond to the attack?

Study how you could have avoided it altogether. Then study the pre-attack cues, the hints that troubles on it's way. Then study the attack itself. How you would respond, first to the initial attack, and then what would you do as a follow up? You'll likely discover patterns in attackers attacks that you can then develop drills for.

Figure out what you'd do and where you'd move.  Then make sure your training syncs up to that reality.  

The next time you're using the heavy bag, think knees and elbows (harder to injure yourself, easier to injure your attacker, even if they're covering up).  Do your strike, or knee or knee elbow combo and then move.  Come around behind your imaginary opponent or practice getting out of there altogether.  

Sparring has some good movement, or it can, but most sparring prohibits any striking to the back of your opponent, so not many people practice getting behind their opponent.  So make sure you do.  Also, from time to time, keep going after a successful hit (if you do point sparring).  Don't drill yourself to stop fighting as soon as you make contact.  If you're an in close type of fighter, after you've tagged your opponent, move in and tie them up/set them up for a finish.

Kata?  That's a bit harder.  Take a kata technique and practice it against different types of attacks.  You may have to do it a certain way in a grading, but that shouldn't prevent you from experimenting with a concept and adjusting as necessary.  

Stances, go into them, but practice popping out of them and moving.  You don't want to be fighting in a straight line, so get off the tracks, you can always drop into another stance once you've angled off to the side or back of your opponent.

Nicely put, Nike
Blocks, strikes and kicking drills?  Same thing, strike and move.  Move in, move out, move to the side, move behind.  Every technique you do should improve your position, make your opponent's position worse and protect yourself from injury.

One of the best things you can do for self defense is to study actual attacks and then tailor your training to respond to those realities.  Training to respond to the most likely type of attacks from the most likely type of attackers will put you miles ahead of most in the self defense world.

"You will fight as you train" 

This is very true in martial arts.  Under stress, your training will kick in.  So make sure your training is addressing the type of violence you're most likely to face.  If all your training is static straight line training,  you'll never move to a position of advantage under high stress.

We are lucky in many ways to have access to such a large database of actual attacks.  It is now possible to tailor training to more accurately respond to what's happening in the real world.

Food for thought.


  1. this is a really good post... sometimes, with the heavy bag, i try to throw a lead hand strike and then actually clinch the bag (maybe adding an elbow or knee for good measure). if you spar with someone you know, a little close quarter contact can be a great tool as you alluded to.

  2. As I find myself in a period of reflection and really examining what I have gained and what my strengths are, this post struck a chord.

    Funny how in times like this we look to tidbits of sage advice and wise words passed along by others.

    A favourite of mine is "training will never let you down" - meaning that if you doubt your abilities, keep training. If you are hung up on something, keep training. Just keep going.

    When you give food for thought, Journeyman, you lay out a good spread.

  3. jc,

    A little close work can do wonders. Good practice to close the distance.


    Thanks for sharing that quote. It strikes a chord too. To just keep showing up is at least half the battle, probably more. Thanks for the compliment.

  4. Great post, Journeyman. Reflection and questioning of training methods is healthy to one's personal growth in any art.

    Since I have a background in culinary arts I like to think of training methods as "ingredients". Everything has its place, and while you can substitute certain ingredients here and there or even omit them if your desired "dish" is different than the original recipe dictates, you should only do it after carefully considering how it will affect your end product. Or else you could end up with a useless mess.

  5. Brett,

    I really like the idea about ingredients and substitutions, but the core ingredients need to remain. Thanks.