The ‘Problem’ with Conventional Self-Defense Training
The number one reason that people begin any type of combatives training, be it traditional martial arts or the combat sports, is for self-defense. Not everyone is looking to become the next UFC star; statistically 98% of adults who walk into any martial arts studio or gym, go there for self-defense or some alternative fitness program. That same 98% typically do not know the difference between the myriad systems out there. They equate fighting with being able to defend themselves, and as far as they are concerned, they will learn to fight in any martial art and naturally gravitate towards the one that best suits their personality.
Not All Systems Were Created Equal
Many systems claim to teach self-defense, or that such and such an art is “good for self-defense”. While certain tactics and methods always leak from the combat sports and traditional arts into self-defense training, this is simply due to the fact that we are human and “have but two arms and two legs”, as Bruce Lee once said. When you look at the types of real-life scenarios in which one person needs to deal with aggressive, violent behavior and compare that to the ring, cage or dojo, there are serious incongruencies. At best, these systems address partial truths of self-defense and tend to adapt training to fit the premise of their style or system, instead of the logical inverse. Many Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu instructors, for example, maintain that all real fights at some point end up on the ground, so you should emphasize ground fighting. In reality, a fight can start when you’re standing, lying in bed or sitting at a bar. And if you do happen to end up on the ground, it may not be the smartest idea to try and submit your opponent or arm bar him while rolling on the street with five of his buddies ready to jump in and kick you in the head. Even some of the so-called ‘reality-based systems’ tend to squeeze everything into the paradigm of their system instead of embracing the totality and reality of violence as is.
Real violence is messy, ugly and to a degree, unpredictable. It is thrust upon us unwanted and often without warning. There are no rounds, no rules and no referees. It can involve multiple, potentially armed, assailants and can take place in hazardous environments. In the combat sports, you can literally train the way you will fight. It is only logical that to get good at anything, you need to practice that specific activity. The Roman Legion had a maxim that went along the lines of “training should be like a bloodless battle so that battle is just like bloody training”. Therein lies the paradox of self-defense training however; the core skills required for true self-defense cannot be practiced full contact, at least without conscience. We cannot practice full power, full speed knees to the groin or eye gouges with our training partners if we want to train regularly; and of course it is through regular training that we improve our skills. Many of the traditional systems can be characterized by static, cooperative drilling and sparring with maybe “semi-contact”, depending on the target. The combat sports institute rules, however limited they may be, therefore creating certain habits in training that could be dangerous if attempted in a true self-defense situation.
Scenario Training: Stepping Outside the Box
If we take as a given that we need to train the way we will fight, we need to step outside the proverbial box if we wish to truly prepare ourselves for self-defense. Training should not focus on any type of sparring, as this does not truly replicate how real-world violence occurs. A self-defense training evolution, or scenario, should unfold, from start to finish, as its real-life counterpart would. As such there needs to be pre-fight, mid-fight and post-fight considerations taken into account. Consider the scenario and everything that could happen before the first attack; is there dialogue? Are you at an ATM making a withdrawal? Are you opening the door to your apartment holding groceries? Are you with a child? Awareness in the pre-fight phase is the single most important attribute you can develop, as it will help you decide that much sooner on how to avoid the fight and retreat to safety or engage the assailant before, or in preparation of, the first assault.
The mid-fight phase starts when the first attack or assault is made, whether you see it coming from the pre-fight phase or not. At whatever point things get physical, in training and for the safety of those involved, it is critical to integrate some form of lightweight, protective gear, so that the scenario can be played out multiple times in real time, with real speed and power. Without these elements, we are not truly training for self-defense. Bruce Lee once said something to the effect of: “if we’re talking about fighting, as it is, with no rules, then baby you’d better train every part of your body”. By extension, for reasons stated above, in self-defense training, you had better protect every part of your body too, without compromising mobility and without numbing you to the impact of the assaults. Impact is a real consideration that you need to deal with in the “real fight”, and this needs to be included, not eliminated, in the training process for inoculation purposes. This is where gear like Spartan Training Armour comes in. Spartan allows the role players in the scenario training evolution to gear up and execute it as described, unencumbered by bulky, heavy gear, restricted mobility, muffled speech, foggy vision or distorted proximity. It allows you to include any and all aspects you can imagine in a true full-speed, full-power self-defense scenario, including standing fighting, multiple opponents, weapons work or ground fighting.
Equally as important as the scenario itself, the post-fight phase must involve a verbal de-brief. For the benefit of the students and trainers alike, it is of the utmost importance to re-play and re-view the choreographed violence as a learning tool. Students can share thoughts on what they felt were effective and ineffective tools. This allows them to add or remove and refine their skills as needed.
It should be clear that combat sports, traditional martial arts, and even conventional self-defense training which consist of moving punching bags that you get to beat on while not wearing any gear yourself, do not constitute realistic self-defense training. Stepping outside that box, it is crucial to integrate gear like Spartan Training Armour for a true, if unconventional, self-defense training experience.
About the authors:
Marc Joseph is a combatives trainer and President of Spartan Training Gear, the industry leader in impact reduction training equipment.
Trevor Wilcox is the president of Intercept Combatives, a training provider based in Hong Kong specializing in combat athletics training – the functional blend of street and sport martial arts. For more information, visit www.icombatives.com.