,Knife defence training is probably the most difficult aspect of self defence that you are likely to encounter. So why are we making the solution appear easy? Why are we training it in a manner that doesn't do it a justice and why are we treating something we all know and believe to be of the utmost difficulty with a band aid approach?
When it comes to knife defence training the vast majority in the industry are literally and figuratively, missing the point. A knife isn’t a complicated tool, there’s a sharp end and a blunt end yet attackers in knife defence videos seem to forget that, they always miss the point! It’s a reoccurring theme, once attackers get a knife in their hand they lose all ability to be able to harm someone! A knife is a supposed to be a force multiplier not a tranquiliser for those in possession! Just the other day I stumbled across a video that people were singing its praises but the attacker barely even moved the blade in the direction of the ‘victim’ You could get the same training effect gaffa taping a knife to a punching bag! The individual demonstrating actually missed a block & the knife still missed him.......miraculous. C’mon people we are better than that! Although evidence suggests that we aren’t.
For every hundred videos on the topic I see, I can count on one hand the number that have something valid to offer. The one thing I hope you take away from this blog is not so much the technique, yet how to train and test it. I believe we do it better than anyone in this part of the world pretty much because we train it honestly, we have a low tolerance to bullshit and we can detect it pretty easily. We have a long way to go before I would make the claims that we are capable at defending against a knife, It’s still a work in progress. Primarily because it is so difficult, one error and you’re done. We have researched most of what’s out there & have found it ALL to be inadequate. Why do we know this? We take it to the level others are too scared to, a level that will likely show that what they are doing is ineffective, it will dispel many of their beliefs. They are more content to live in denial which sounds pretty unethical to me. Aside from this, the training actually hurts…….a lot!
Anyone who puts in the hours in exercises or drills that resemble reality knows that mistakes will be made & success is hard to come by. That’s not to say in reality that you will get cut, you may get lucky, the person attacking you may be intoxicated or uncoordinated (just like the attackers in your videos haha!) I often say the people with real knife experience are in gaol (jail) not in dojos, learn from them online in how they attacked their victims, theres so much footage at your disposal.
I like to compare knife defence & training in general this to baseball/teeball. Every time the instructor gives a directive you are essentially putting it on a tee, you are making it easier for them to succeed. I understand that you need to start slowly when in the skill acquisition stage however if your video has the agenda of showing how proficient you are at defending a knife then show that, without serving it on a platter. Every time the intensity decreases even by a small percentage its NOT reality. Every time you have prior knowledge of what the attack is going to be it’s NOT reality. Every time the attacker does not respond or react in a manner befitting someone trying to harm you, it’s NOT reality. Even lessening one of these equates to it sliding down the reality continuum. I used to watch Krav Maga videos of knife pick defence where the attackers are really swinging the knife hard at the attacker and I was impressed when they successfully defended it. Now I know they are not only putting it on a tee but telling fielders where to stand! Like old mate in the aforementioned video he knew which attack was coming, the attacker didn’t try to stab him in the slightest, there was no follow up and he still stuffed it up!
The video above is from about 5 years ago & this was a sequence in a class. I was filming it and I was amazed at how skilled the guys were for barely getting cut. I was right to feel proud due to the ability of my guys to improvise with viable responses to the variables within attacks. However, lets be honest for a moment, the attacks were slow. Slow it down by even 10% it becomes significantly easier, this was probably around 70% so thats a big reduction, that's certainly lowering the bar quite a bit. There was an element of sparring partner syndrome in the attackers too ie hit then wait to be hit and the attacks were predominantly blade only. So is this training for reality………. Not really.
The same thing could be said for the videos above, about 8 years ago this time, if viewed through an honest lens, its way off realism.
This video was from a last week where we had testing, the attacker has a marker. We called this the 'moderate' level not due to the intensity (more intense than what you're probably doing) but more because the attackers had limitations placed upon them. The limitations were that the attackers had to be fixated on the knife and were allowed to use the knife, clinch and grapple. Is this closer to realism? Maybe as the knife situations I have experienced and same with that of my team, all of us had tunnel vision on the blade. Would this more likely occur when confronted by your typical street thug? This is potentially a human condition that we may be kidding ourselves that we can bypass? Hopefully more exposure in training will limit this. However, due to the less options for the attacker a much higher percentage of success was experienced. That was great considering all of these guys have had less than a years training under their belts.
The above was the advanced session. Attackers could not only use the blade but kick, punch or whatever they wanted to make their attack successful. I made it a competition making their goal to stab unlike the attacker in video I keep referring to. There was an incentive to 'kill' your training partner & and instant win for drawing a dick on them! So you're probably watching this thinking these guys aren't that good, insert the my styles technique here ____________________ would work. But I promise you, unless you get super lucky and the stars align it won't. The people featured here & other clips not shown have a wide variety of backgrounds from differing arts & even professions where people assume they have the answer to violence. Some attempted to control the knife hand , some tried to do a version of a simultaneous block and strike, others tried to strike through the attack, some initiated takedowns with an effort to grapple and some went in with no strategy per se. The results were not pleasing, none of them addressed the issue in every scenario. What we found to work was the person with the ability to improvise and switch between all responses, (most that have often aren't covered in a structured system) as dictated by the attacker had more success. If it doesn't work here in this controlled environment then it most certainly won't be successful when its real. We found that a bigger stronger faster athlete (like in all combat) has a distinct advantage. We have given a lot of thought to whether this level of training is going above and beyond what may be required in a general real encounter and we have decided that we should be trying to deal with worst case scenario, its better to address it in training then to ignore it hoping it doesn't happen.
In summary I think the worst thing you can do in training drills is place limitations on the attackers. As soon as a skill becomes closed it becomes easier, an open skill is a lot tougher and what needs to be developed. If we take out the decision making element in training we are making drills ridiculously easy & far less useful again if you are at that stage in your training. Limiting responses limits growth, limits improvements and limits your chances of success if it is to happen for real. Processing skills in the moment, being able to decide upon the required response to a stimulus is vital in fighting. Fighting/self defence does not take place in a vacuum so we need to stop training it as if it does if we truly seek the truth.
In almost every gym worldwide you will find the RPE table pictured above:
This is a simple chart that is used to give a subjective measure of exercise intensity based on the subjects own experience, how they feel both physically and mentally during bouts of exercise. As a trainer it gives the clients perception of how hard they think they are working as opposed to an objective measure such as a heart rate monitor. Problem is it is often doctored by the lazy exerciser who simply does not want to be extended beyond their comfort level. You know the type that grunts a little louder in an attempt to give off the impression they are working really hard. This has unfortunately crept into the self defence world where instructors actually perceive they are teaching effective techniques or sparring hard when clearly they are not. They are no different to the grunting exerciser, problem is that not many of us, from the general consumer to even seasoned professionals cannot see through this charade and its hurting the industry.
I believe we should have a similar simple chart or tool to measure the ‘pressure testing’ that people use to verify an ‘effective’ technique. Some of the ‘battle tested’ techniques that we see can’t really be verified and when clips claim to be doing just that they need to be scrutinised.
It can also be used to help measure the intensity of ‘sparring’ or ‘scenario training’ as there is a distinct difference between pressure testing and drilling. We need one that cannot be doctored by the practitioner through concise guidelines. A major point of difference is that instead it being based of the practitioners perception it needs to be made by a neutral third party irrespective of experience. Why I say they don’t need to be an expert is the table should give sufficient criteria to help them make an informed critique. This may assist the practitioner if they are willing to take on board constructive criticism and also the uneducated, uninformed potential martial artist to make a somewhat educated choice as to where they train and if their instructor has an idea.
The idea of assessing techniques is tough particularly when they are out of context, they need to be isolated at some stage & if you are demonstrating a particular technique it is essential. For me to be a believer there needs to be more. I need to see it work under the same stressors that you would find in a real scenario. That is it needs to be tested with extreme pressure in sparring/scenarios to be considered in the ball park of reality. Granted it’s impossible to achieve this safely and lawfully all the time, but I have to see it or experience it in this realm or further testing is required. That’s the big thing, if they fail this eye test it doesn’t mean it should be scrapped, it means further testing or exploration is required. For example a parry of a jab can be taught with compliance and in slow motion however its pretty easy to gather evidence that it works under pressure, namely boxing, kickboxing & MMA fights as well as CCTV footage. Also there is a time and a place to isolate skills and power etc particularly early on in the practitioners journey.
So when looking at a clip these are the four categories I have come up with in their simplest terms that can be used to determine if something is being ‘pressure tested’ and effective:
1 Fighting Movement
I purposely steer clear of giving things a vogue name and call it fighting because that's what’s happening. You can try and categorise it but once it turns physical you are essentially fighting. Fighting for your life, fighting for your ego, whatever it may be no matter how trivial. Just like a fight the bad guy should be applying the attack with corresponding movement. That is at the right distance with realistic power and speed & with realistic responses. An issue I constantly see here is that of forward momentum. When people are actually trying to hurt you they are moving forward, not remaining stationary, its dynamic, unpredictable & rarely goes according to the script and it doesn’t flow. This is where a lot of the on the spot drilling commonly practised becomes impractical, feet move. People move, especially emotionally charged people. The clip below has little application in fighting in my opinion.
2 Emotional State
When you are in a fight there is emotion present, that emotion differs from situation to situation and it may be present in the form of fear, anxiety, anger to name a few. The only people who don’t have this are the supremely confident, those desensitised to violence or under the influence of a substance. This is why when an instructor says to relax when striking or general training I question their knowledge & experience. It’s an unrealistic expectation. Every time I’ve thrown hands at someone be it ring or street I was never or could never be relaxed (sparring aside). Maybe I just haven’t achieved that state of Zen? For training or sparring to be closer to the reality realm there needs to be a consequence or a fear of getting hurt (not injured). Touch sparring is useful but if that's what you consider pressure testing you are way off and when intensity hits 10 and all you’ve ever trained is a 5 you will be in for a nasty surprise. Protective equipment comes in to play here, if you always spar with headgear on you will be in for a shock the first time you feel the superficial injuries a helmet protects you from. Not many hobbyists will be able to see and feel their nose being splattered across their face and have the grit to continue. Take the gear off & you will see your anxiety rises in relation to the risk of injury. You’ll fight very differently. The same happens with the power allowed in shots, sparring at 90% intensity will prevent you from doing a large proportion of things that you can at 50% intensity. Same with the environment, train on concrete, in an office etc and it will change your strategy substantially. This type of training is not encouraged all the time, but has to happen some time.
The bad guys actions are not there to support the technique or to enable it. Their response should be congruent with that of a real attack. People have the ability to solve problems on the fly, they will not freeze or continue an attack that is unsuccessful. They will adapt & change & their response based on result. To dumb that down if someone has a free hand they will most likely hit you with it! Put yourself in the attackers shoes, what would you do next? What’s your motivation? What are you trying to achieve? So many scenarios that are drilled are pointless, there is no plausible scenario where they would happen on our planet! One often overlooked aspect of training is that your opponent will dictate your tactics/strategy rather than you or the plan you mapped out in your head. It usually goes off script!
Same with expecting them be rendered useless after your technique, you should assume the technique didn't go to plan & that there must be a continuation of sorts. I remember an instructor getting his ass handed to him reach up & touch his sparring partners face & screaming “I got your eyes’ then walking off like he won that battle. We should do the opposite, ok maybe I was able to poke him in the eyes but then what? Maybe it didn't have any effect at all, maybe it made the attacker enraged, it’s safer to assume it didn't work then to assume it did because again in a real encounter you do not want any surprises.
Every time you place a restriction on an attacker you are slipping down the ‘reality’ continuum. I know when demonstrating a specific technique essentially you have to however it has to be able to work when there are no restrictions. For example it is not justification that your icepick knife defence works when you practice it in isolation regardless of how hard you go. If you have prior knowledge of what the attack is going to be it takes out the processing skills that are needed to identify the incoming attack and to select the correct response. This is a huge misunderstood part of combat and self defence. This is where we need to draw parallels to sport. Being a basketball coach I prefer a player to be able to make ‘reads’ in the moment that is adapt due to the circumstances rather than be a robot moving only where and how instructed. This separates basketball players & also separates fighters/self defence practitioners in terms of ability, those who are able to make the correct read are generally better. Fighting is unpredictable and particularly fighting on the streetz where anything may happen ie weapons, multiples you know the usual suspects. Your ability to be analytical in a high stakes, high pressure & high speed environment is imperative for your success. If you can’t process visual cues in a hundredth of a second you’re in trouble! Its also imperative for critiquing validity of concepts and techniques. My knife system changed dramatically over the years due to this. Everything works when you can predict what’s coming. When we started allowing the attacker to not only use the blade but also to strike and wrestle it was a catalyst for necessary change. It made the majority of knife systems that are out there useless.
So lets take a look at my new chart & how it is applied:
Watch a video & every time you see an error you take a mark off. For example if we were looking at compliance you see the attacker freeze after their attack you take (1), their follow up response is unlikely they lose another point and so forth. If i was doing this in one of my teacher roles this would be considered hard marking but in this context it should be. The formula would look like this
10 - (sum of mistakes) =
Put that number in the renamed chart 'Rate of Perceived Resistance' below:
I've also made another version after scrolling through some online forums I figured it would have to be made even simpler & rather than give a number a meme would resonate with that crowd:
If you are on the path to seeking the truth or you claim to be teaching self defence or effective techniques, someone associated with you must be training in between levels 7-10. This is what I refer to as the truth zone! Not everyone can or is prepared to train at this level and they don't have to, however the techniques need to be verified at this stage by someone. I don’t expect my kids to take training there, same with my Women’s or beginner groups, however, my group of senior students do and it filters down. They test it for and on behalf of them. The other thing is that it needs to be a common occurance, that is you see this technique or concept working a large number of times in the truth zone. One example in a street fight isn’t enough. You want a large sample size for justification. For us it was around 5 years of seeing the same outcomes & even then we were skeptical and had to up the stakes hence the birth of King of the West.
This is not to say there is no validity to training at the other ranges, there absolutely is but don’t make the mistake of thinking that everything you get to work at 6 will work at 10. And please don’t be training at 3 thinking you are doing anything other than art or tradition, or you deserve to get crucified online because you will get crucified on the day you need to rely on said skills. Also there are no free passes or exemptions here regardless of your surname, training group if you have a weapon or whatever. We need to call a duck a duck but there also needs to be reasoning. So many credentialed instructors put out material that is utter fantasy and because of who they are their sycophantic following endorse it. Some instructors that I know and respect share some utter garbage! Theres no reason why anyone can't take them to task if it doesn't fulfil the criteria. Again this is a work in progress and its a start and hopefully someone with more time & intelligence can expand upon it!
The internet gives everyone a voice, sometimes this is a good thing, mostly it isn’t. Some people who do have a platform for being good at one thing should really think carefully before crossing into other realms, Kyrie Irving & his flat earth discussion springs to mind. A huge problem that it has created is that people are confused as to who to listen to and whose opinion is actually worth noting. This line has become very blurred in recent times. If I need some info I’m savvy enough to go to someone with credibility in their respected field, I’m starting to think I’m one of the minority, this could not be more apparent than in the martial arts industry.
Most people just like in the above video above assume the action of others in an attempt to be just like everyone else ie to follow the masses. This is refereed to as social proofing. It is based on the idea that since so many other people behave in a certain way, it must be the correct behaviour. I’m guilty of this with food, if I go to China town where the food may be described as a gamble, I usually go to the busiest store making the assumption the food must be a) good & b) safe, with no idea as to whether this is the case or not. I inadvertently just follow everyone else.
Quite often you will see a controversial post on a forum & the masses oppose it regardless of the how persuasive or even conclusive the argument may be. It’s easy just to go with the majority, less headaches, less backlash & besides I’m sure the more people who share this opinion automatically mean’s its right, right? My year 9 teacher talking about Robert Frosts ‘The road not taken’ finally makes sense!
Marketers ‘reinforce’ how good their product/service is by enlisting the help of a celebrity. This is why anything to do with Bruce Lee is accepted by almost everyone when the discussion is martial arts, even if his words or actions appear dubious. Having said that they have seen him defeat a myriad of people, does it really matter if it was a movie? Appears not to, people seem to have trouble distinguishing between reality and fantasy. Please note: the following clip is from a MOVIE!!!!!!!!
Then there’s other ‘celebrities’ or names that people tend to respond to & that’s the ‘Influencers’. You know the girls of instagram who have little knowledge of what they are selling, they just so happen to be genetically blessed. I’ve seen this too many times where I encourage a female client to get on the squat rack but they’d rather pull out the booty bands to work their glutes because of all these ‘influencers’. But hey they have a million followers so it must be legit? The same with martial arts, there is a subculture of martial influencers out there with huge followings, but if you scrutinize their work and their offerings you may see that it lacks validity. Perhaps they are just good at multimedia and present well, they look good on screen with a good presence, with excellent cinematography skills & post production editing but is that really enough to classify them as an expert? Some of them turn out content continually to feed the masses and to keep riding the wave of attention however quite often there’s little quality control & they are once again extending beyond their range. Are we tuning in to a talk show to watch the host or their guests? The general population is easily seduced by these approaches whereas I wouldn’t care if it was written on a piece of toilet paper, if its good its good! It reminds me of culinary presentation to me the pic below has no substance, this is not a mouth watering dish but it’s all in the presentation right?
Another phenomena is the ‘halo effect’ coined by psychologist Edward Thorndike. This is where we make judgments based on our overall impression of someone. This includes all the aforementioned such as they have been on television or in movies, the manner in which they have been portrayed or their social media presence. This is where presentation is key, it pays to be good looking! Or you can do what is quite common in this industry and lie through your teeth to create a persona that would be tough to live up to! I’m sure you could create a lengthy list of candidates!
Others increase their social media presence or their perceived level of ‘expertise’ by pandering to their audience. One video is well received therefore lets stick with that formula. It's the audience that keeps the views and likes up, the sales high and the monetary contributions, and if you upset them, they can just go elsewhere. Let’s keep our opinions in line with theirs so they keep coming back and bringing all the dollars with them.
This is why it’s important to look at the industry through an objective lens, look beyond the superficial. Watch the next UFC with the commentary off, you may see a totally different fight!. Same with videos/blogs and anything you see, shut out anything that may cause bias and judge it for what it truly is. It's ok to disagree with someone if you have a valid argument or reasoning as to why that is, this should be encouraged. You have that same right to an opinion, just use it wisely!
Head movement is an under-utilised yet essential skill in Self Defence training. Its one that probably isn’t given the time & attention it deserves, particularly if you are training in a holistic manner. It is understandable that it isn’t covered in a short course but for those who are more than hobbyists it needs to be part of your arsenal.
Head movement can be divided into two categories, defensive & general. Defensive head movement refers to movement in response to a strike such as slipping or bobbing & weaving. General head movement is head movement that a boxer would engage in whilst squared off, so as to be a moving target or to set up offense. In self defence training people generally say that general head movement shouldn’t occur because once you get in that posturing zone you can turn and run. This is true to some extent but first – can you run? Are you in shape? Do the circumstances allow it ie Are you cornered, do you have significant others with you that you can’t leave? Are you in this situation due to employment? On top of the obvious what happens if the initial engagement occurs, you separate & they come back at you? I’d encourage general head movement without a doubt!
It’s a great 2nd line of defence. Aside from use in actual real Self Defence & combat sports examples, how many times have you seen something out the corner of your eye that is moving toward your head & you instinctively move out of the way? As a sports coach I’ve done it many times dodging a ball that’s been thrown or kicked to me when I’m not ready, particularly when I’ve picked it up at the last moment & I didn’t have enough time to get my hands up to catch it.
On that note it’s not always possible to get your hands up in time to defend yourself for a variety of reasons.
1 Sometimes you just don’t have the proximity. Blocking is useful in the right context just as covering is also, but what happens when you pick up the movement a touch too late?
Your only choice like the examples above is head movement.
2 We all know the 90degree rule & it definitely has validity but what happens when the attacker is much larger than you? If you are outweighed significantly by your attacker it may not hold up even if the stars align and you get the perfect structure it can fail you, particularly if they have greater momentum etc. Force on force isn’t always the best option, particularly if you are lighter. Lighter people increase their chances significantly by being able to move, like a matador. It’s how I got by!
Also speaking strategically, if you do successfully block the shot you are halting their momentum at the expense of a portion of your structure, so they still have the advantage – and please don’t talk about blocking and striking simultaneously. Even though it occurs occasionally in the boxing world making it the premise of your defence shows you have no experience in fighting. You do any 2 tasks at the same time you are doing them both inadequately, particularly at the speed required. If you do successfully block the attack remember the next shot will proceed immediately – it’s not like the technique workshops you commonly see where an arm freezes mid air. Blocking that first shot would enable them to fire back immediately due to stopping their momentum. Whereas ducking successfully opens up so many possibilities, escapes, counters…so many options. Getting out of the way buys you time.
3 Head Movement can still work when you are holding something. I have had someone take a swing at me while carrying shopping bags and on a basketball court holding a ball (more than once!). I have seen Youtube videos where people even throw a punch at people holding an infant. You can’t always just drop what you have and then get back in the game.
4. Head Movement still works if someone has hold of your hands/arms. Maybe they have your arm and are hitting you, perhaps the aggressor’s friend or maybe your friend or significant other has hold of your arms also. There are many scenarios where this is a possibility.
5. Head Movement still works if you have an arm injury be it in a sling or in plaster.
6. It can also be applied if they have an implement both bladed or blunt.
Lastly it is not always appropriate to have your hands in a defensive position. I work in a field where I’m trying to gain the trust of some historically violent people. If I have body language that conveys nervousness or fear or even that I’m ready to fight this would nullify any progress I have made and potentially make me a target. Most conventional, under the radar RBSD stances may have this effect. This is also the case whilst I’m walking through these areas, walking with your hands in a tactical position makes you look a bit socially awkward maybe makes you a target. I’m probably an exception to the rule here but I don’t want you to look like an oddball for the sake of being tactical. Imagine going on a first date insisting on sitting with your back to the wall, locating exits and potential risks, scanning the environment with your head on a swivel. When it comes time to pay you take your ridiculous coin pouch that you doubles as a cumbersome weapon off your tactical belt to pay dinner I almost guarantee you won’t be getting laid! Why not train your body to be a functional weapon, you don’t need to carry a tool that makes you look like a tool! HEAD MOVEMENT!
I’m not going to discuss how to do this you can go to any reputable boxing gym the world over and they’ll show you but what I will add is to make sure you train it from both stances including disadvantages ones with an emphasis of maintaining proactive structure. That is your feet are under you, you are in a position that you can initiate offence or more defence if required. So if head movement is not in your curriculum it is incomplete.
Violence is a useful tool is the catch cry for many in the self defence /combatives industry and rightfully so. You’ve seen the inspirational memes posted everywhere.
Violence is often ugly but on the odd occasion its a beautiful thing when used in the right context, such as a kid fighting off a bully, a woman fighting off a would be rapist etc. There’s a term that I would put on equal stead however it is always regarded in a negative light in this industry and that is ego.
Ego is defined as ‘a person's sense of self-esteem or self-importance’ and that’s pretty damn important if you ask me. How many times have you heard the phrase leave your ego at the door? I say bring your ego with you because its pretty important, if you have no ego then you will be eaten alive in the gym and in life. Just like violence you need to be able to distinguish when and how it’s appropriate. Sure its wrong to come into a training environment and act like a douche trying to beat up everyone, but in a competitive drill I want people to compete, not lay down without putting up a fight. I love to see people in my classes put in effort & strive to be better than the next person, especially kids. Half the kids that are training with me are doing so because their parents feel they need more ego, they need to feel that are worthy of defending and that they shouldn't allow people to treat them like a door mat. Thats a lack of ego right there.
I first started training because my ego motivated me to want to be able to fight if I needed to. Growing up in the environment I did lacking in ego would be detrimental. Throughout my training life my ego made me work harder than the next man, I would stay in the gym longer, practice everything at home & strive to improve. At 45 years of age I still do a minimum 8 training sessions a week, I hold my self to a higher standard than the average, its my ego that prevents me from getting out of shape and becoming one of those overweight, out of shape instructors who rely on their reputations rather than ability. My ego makes me ignore my minor injuries that are always there and continue to strive to be the best, I’ve had a number of pretty major surgeries and even if it may be a valid excuse my ego reemphasises its an excuse and to get back on it. Its my ego that has and will continue to help me in combat – be it combat sports or even self defence, it is my ego that makes me want to win & continue to so despite adversity, despite wanting to quit or choosing the simple path. My ego has picked me off the floor in a boxing ring and powered me on to victory after it looked like defeat was certain. My ego didn’t allow me to lose or look incapable in front of the large crowd cheering for the other guy My ego made me want to climb the rankings of fighters eventually making me a champion. My ego makes me stand up for myself, not allowing myself become a victim wherever my world shall take me. My ego makes me strive to have my self defence school rated as one of the best worldwide. My ego makes me want my students to be the best they can be and be able to dismantle anyone who may threaten them. My ego makes my quality control measures more stringent than my competition thus achieving the aforementioned. . It’s my ego that makes me actually strive to find the best methods of training and not taking short cuts because they are easier.
One thing that all professional fighters and successful athletes have is a big ego, some outwardly so that they seem conceited ie McGregor, Mayweather, Mundine yet others such as GGG, Roy Jones jnr etc have the same they just appear quietly confident.
On the flip side ego has caused many problems for both myself and others. I should’ve walked away from a number of the fights and challenges I have been presented in my time but my ego stopped me, that was absolutely not the best course of action in some of those instances. My ego doesn’t allow me to network in the martial arts industry as it will prevent me from partnering with people who I am not philosophy aligned with even if it means a better pay day.
The struggle is you need to know when to switch it on and when it needs to take a back seat, I’ve become better at this with time, the older I get the more control I have but it isn't as bad as advertised, in many instances its a necessity.
I’m not shocked anymore from anything I see in the Self Defence/Martial Arts Industry. There is all sorts of crazy in it that it’s tiresome trying to change or amend it. One thing I’d like to address or challenge is the phenomena that I like to call the Milli Vanilli Instructors.
If you don’t know who Milli Vanilli was, they were a band who had two guys with all the superficial assets needed to succeed, they were good looking, in shape, could dance, had all the charisma in the world. Problem is they couldn’t sing or play any music. They were discovered to be frauds that mimed their songs. Is the music really important anyway? In the Self Defence industry it obviously is not. You see there are a multitude of instructors out there who may look the part yet the material and training they present is lacking and we are ignoring the important part…….the music ie the training.
It hurts me to see instructors held in high esteem & quite frankly when you see their training and it has no substance, if you look at it with a hint of common sense you can clearly see they are snake oil salesman. Who says you can’t polish a turd? I hear podcasts with guests with a sycophantic following & then I see what they do & its just so disappointing! Just before I heard you say all the right things & you give a backstory that should have taught you something, yet this is your training? This is what you pass off as reality?
It happens all the time, I recently heard someone talk the talk – 'I’m an ex crim who turned my life around and teach from my lessons from a life of violence'. Problem is you are more of a criminal now if you take money from people for that nonsense you consider training! I suspect you survived your time inside by other means than being a tough guy. But its ok because what happened behind bars there is no proof of, its’ your word (you’ve earnt our trust!) and the gullible public hear the word gaol (jail) & they believe! This is not religion, you can ask for proof! Its not about blind faith!
There’s probably about 3 or 4 backstories that are identical in this industry for those who have success. Military, Police, Security, Gaol I guess if you want to be successful follow the business model! Problem is I have worked security & currently in gaols and maybe I’m doing it wrong but if you treat people like people its not that violent a profession. In fact I’d go so far to say that the workplace made it less likely for me to use my training, It was very, very restrictive. I saw way more violence working as a school teacher & if I really wanted to be accurate the uniform below is what we should be most impressed with. Statistics show that worldwide, nurses are far more likely to be attacked than police officers and prison guards. Maybe some of the industry ‘pundits’ need to update their cosplay wardrobes and get a nursing costume! Perhaps do a TAFE course to bolster their resume! I can see it at seminars now ‘I loved martial arts growing up & I wanted a testing ground so I did 10 years in ER at Nepean Hospital’ That’s way more accurate than what I’m hearing.
In this industry in general, there are a lot of people held in high esteem that really shouldn’t be if training, knowledge & ability are valued. It’s more about perception. Some adopt a WWE flavour. That is they are overly theatrical by stomping their feet and snarling as they hit pads/bags. Some actually hit people hard in demos whilst they are standing still and not providing any resistance. That’s a dick move for mine as a 10 year old could hurt someone doing that.
To be ultra successful many lie through their teeth about their ability & conquests. People seem to appreciate ‘war stories’ as I have witnessed a well known instructor tell the same story with a different ending three times catering for the technique he was teaching at the time. He also went on to tell a story from a film as if it happened to him! The majority of attendees all lapped it up. Another ‘icon’ that has given himself a nickname & talks all kind of nonsense about how much of a bad ass he is yet looks like he should be searching for snow white with his other 6 buddies! Looking at him and some of his film he is or never was in any shape or ability to have been able to perform the feats he claims. His videos, which I’m sure he chose the best takes, looks like a blooper reel of poor athleticism and awkwardness. I usually don’t like to demean someone due to their physical characteristics/abilities but when you put YOURSELF on a pedestal built from lies you are fair game. He talks like he is Jorge Masvidal yet looks and moves like Danny Devito and yes, he has a cult following.
So should we focus less on actual results and more on building a persona? Maybe perfect your 1000 yard stare? Develop an alpha portfolio of excessively masculine pics holding knives & guns? Maybe blur out the faces in group training pics to give off the impression that it’s a top secret gig with people so damn dangerous you cannot show their identity. Or maybe they are dentists? Joke explanation here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CF2opel339U
So what is it that people value? What are they key words that draw people in? You know what, on second thoughts I don’t really care, I for one wish to remain ethical. Coaching is about improving your athletes not your reputation. I put integrity first.
Almost every time I write something its kind of airing something that I find annoying, this time is no different. In fact I’m defending the right to criticise, that is if its warranted. A little while back I had a car accident, I wasn’t travelling very fast maybe 30km/hr and when the air bag deployed it broke my nose. So I did a bit of research and watched a report on air bags fitted in Hondas (like mine), not exactly riveting but the parallels are uncanny. You see it would be safe to assume that everyone who has designed an airbag has done so in an attempt to protect people. They, in their heart of hearts probably even had a sense of accomplishment thinking about the number of lives they will save and probably already have. There was one particular company who probably with the same ideals designed what they thought, to the best of their knowledge would serve its purpose. The problem is their design actually caused more harm than good. These particular air bags when deployed actually fired out all kinds of projectiles that actually killed and disfigured many people. At last count there were 27 deaths & over 300 severe injuries.
Some of these tragic events even occurred in minor accidents & it was proven that it would have been safer for the individual to have no air bag fitted than this particular type. So what should we have done? Ignored this issue so as not to offend or upset the manufacturer? Kept producing them and turn a blind eye to the inadequacies they present? Make up an excuse that it’s not them that perhaps it’s the steering wheel? Maybe it’s the way the individual drove? We’ve done it this way for years & its worked fine?
Thankfully all involved decided to address the issue. They did a recall of that particular brand. They took on a new supplier who had the most stringent of stringent testing of their designs rather than stay loyal to that brand. They tested their products under extreme pressure to ensure that when the time came they were confident it would work. They even engaged in problem solving so as to cover every conceivable variable that may occur.
Obviously martial arts isn’t as serious as this but you get the idea. This is why I feel the need to speak up and encourage others to do so. You see there are still some people out there who have integrity and actually care about the material they put out. There are people out there who legitimately test their system not unlike the air bags and an even braver few who would scrap their entire system if they discovered it to be ineffective. If your goal is to help people protect themselves just like the air bag, than the following actions may be considered negligent:
Its simple really, remove the emotional attachment thus removing the cognitive bias.
The martial arts would have to be the most disconnected of all the subcultures I frequent. The promises that instructors make resemble that of politicians around election time. They say one thing yet deliver something very different.
The disconnect begins with the actual name ‘Martial Arts’ with its definition seen here from wikipedia:
‘The term is derived from Latin and means "arts of Mars", Mars is from Roman mythology the god of war. Some authors have argued that fighting arts or fighting systems would be more appropriate on the basis that many martial arts were never "martial" in the sense of being used or created by professional warriors.’
First of all there is a huge disparity between martial arts and its intended use, war. I’m a practitioner of combat training, not preparing for war & it would also be conceited of me to consider myself a warrior. I mean I hit the bags & pads and spar weekly, that does not make me a warrior. The fact that I sit in front of a heater in slippers watching Netflix with my morning coffee probably cancels that out! This can also be applied to fighting too because a large percentage of what practitioners do has little correlation to fighting, yet they refuse to believe that. It seems to be characterised by high levels of cognitive bias even though it’s so glaringly obvious.
Then there’s the people who talk the talk and then you see them train or coach & you are left wondering if it is the same person who you were just listening to. I listen to podcasts of these people held in high esteem and then I see their physical and it is so far removed that it discredits their work.Talk is cheap right?!?! I was a street fighter growing up, in and out of prison until I joined the special forces and after all of that its evident that I can’t fight?!?! You watch them either coaching or training themselves and they are uncoordinated have little power or speed and it just looks average at best. They then have the argument that if they are angry & they are fighting for real it’s a different story. Apparently being angry makes up for a lack of skill and athleticism? I may have to add one session a week on getting angry? Perhaps I should manicure my lawn and wait for people to walk on it?
The same could be said by the droves of people on forums or social media criticising everything. They are great at giving advice but its more a case of ‘do as I say not as I do’. You often click on their link & you see something not too different from the video they are laughing at. I had a competitor often make negative comments about what we do & I used to engage with him until he put some of his training videos out. It was clear he didn’t comprehend what was happening in my videos and that he didn’t have the depth of understanding to ever figure it out so I stopped wasting my time.
The other things that I cant rationalise is what it means to be an instructor or black belt, it appears as though that ‘qualification’ is a gold pass allowing you to do a whole lot more such as:
There’s disconnect in that if you have the right surname or are attached to the right system you can teach what you want with no recourse. It would be like Picasso, if he took a shit on some canvas and called it art it would be in high demand and considered wonderful! It doesn’t take away from the fact that it is what it is regardless of who produces it. I recently saw a walking stick system, the disconnect appears again. Do they realise that the vast majority of people who use a walking stick do so for mobility? Without it they cannot move, walk, step etc? Unless it was designed for pimps but I thought they’d have a highly developed pimp hand yet the goldfish high heels would also make mobility difficult?
Also there is a lot of tough talk, I’d do this & I’d do that. I’m a lion or a wolf & I saw someone lay down a challenge recently to a group & the response was I can’t believe how unprofessional he is!!!! We need to look at what we do with critical thought, not be blinded by our styles blinkers. Don’t be afraid to ask questions & if said person cannot justify their actions with a solid argument or science then we need to call it for what it is. You may think this is negative but what’s even more unsavoury is continuing to pay money for second rate advice that may be more harmful than helpful.
Almost every martial arts style advertises and promotes their school using the term self defence, but is what teach applicable on the street? Martial arts techniques will work in a specific time & place; the problem is that the time and place is quite often just movies! So how do you determine what’s useful & what isn’t? One way is scenario training.
Your typical scenario training looks like a porn flick, it starts with some terrible dialogue and acting that is often skipped over, followed by a random segue into everybody’s favourite part, the physical act, that quite often involves several people. But seriously, Self Defence / Martial arts like any physical pursuit should be trained in the same manner as we do sport. The training needs to simulate the event that you are training for as closely as possible. Let me restate that, as closely as possible. You are essentially engaging in role-playing or simulation training of a potentially violent situation. So what advice would I give to anyone wishing to delve into the world of scenario training? Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned over the years:
Rule #1 Safety First
Just like fight club this rule needs to appear twice because it’s that important. Pad the person &/or pad the environment to ensure the safety of participants. Scenario training often involves props or taking the training from a safe, sterile gym and into a variety of unpredictable locations. At Krav West we often train in buses, stairs, bathrooms, clubs, skate bowls and many other volatile locations. These locations do not have the luxury of padded walls & floors like most gyms therefore the risk of injury is increased. We accommodate for this by conducting a risk assessment and once potential hazards are identified we look at means of eliminating or reducing them. This is done as stated before by padding the participants or the environment and we also employ ‘spotters’ Just like lifting in the gym we have a spotter to support another person during a particular exercise that may go astray, we have them in particular scenarios such as on the stairs standing behind participants to catch them should they fall. We also stress the importance appropriate protective equipment and have a number of substitute soft props that we use in place of tables etc. We have strict rules about taking care of training partners & a level of etiquette we adhere to in regards to how we attack each other.
Check your ego at the door
This is vital to ensure rule #1, the integrity of the drills & the cohesiveness of the group. Everyone needs to understand that this is different to a fight; this is a learning exercise not mortal combat! I manage to take the ego out by explaining to all participants that this is not you versus them. This is a particular situation that you hopefully do not find yourself in, it’s not a competition, it’s about problem solving. Both the assailant and the victim are playing roles and both are disadvantaged to some degree. It’s similar to MMA where during a sparring session one fighters instructions are to wrestle & the other one to strike, maybe it’s not your forte, maybe it’s not what you would do, but for the sake of the drill and skill development it’s necessary. Each person needs to accept that in certain scenarios they are crash test dummies and are there for others to build their skills. These roles are swapped so everyone has an opportunity to experience both sides of the drill. The other area where ego needs to take a back seat is it is not a time you have a captive audience to try out your new comedy routine or puns. This often changes the mood and detracts from the drill same with using it as an excuse to try and hurt people. I’m fortunate in that I have a great group who get along and trust each other which enables us to take training to a whole new level!
Have Clear Objectives & Roles
Everyone needs to be on the same page or it can turn pear shaped real quick. Everyone needs to know their role to make it work & they need to ‘stick to the script’ as I am often heard saying! We don’t actually write out scripts or have it storyboarded however we each have a role that is essential for success, if someone starts ad libbing or going improv it often doesn’t achieve the desired result. The one person who can be left in the dark is the ‘victim’ or the person who the scenario is for. We refer to this as an open scenario. An open scenario means that they do not know what they are getting into, the only instructions given is to solve the problem. It’s a little bit like that old TV show ‘Thank God You’re Here’ The participant starts outside the room while the team create the set, then walk into it and take care of business on the fly. In a closed scenario, everyone has a solid idea of how it’s all going to go down. I quite often show a CCTV video of an attack and we basically re-enact it trying a few different methods of solving the problem. This is the means we prefer to use on less experienced students. This allows for the student to plan a response, which detracts from the ‘ambush’ style of training that characterises reality-based training, yet is often necessary for skill development and progression.
There needs to be a clear end point also, we use a whistle to signal to stop, to distinguish from people yelling out ‘stop’ as this would likely be background noise in a real encounter. People often get lost in the moment and cannot hear commands particularly with certain headgear on, yet the sound of the whistle manages to get through. This also allows for more scenarios within scenarios such as a third party getting involved once the original one is resolved.
Pre-& Post incident is essential
Just as time is taken developing the physical component, careful consideration must be made for the pre & post incident. Violent encounters are usually decided in the pre-fight or frill necking stage as we refer to it. The person who lands the initial significant attack here usually triumphs. Therefore you’re tactics and strategies in this phase must be sound. People get beaten in fights before they even realise they were in one. This stage needs to be characterised by some aggressive dialogue and posturing to help develop the recognition of pre contact cues as well as working on your verbal de-escalation skills, positioning etc. You must also keep it street, when you attack don’t drop into a horse stance or touch gloves and come out fighting, keep it in context.
The Post incident needs careful consideration also. How many times have we seen one fight ending only for the individual to get cleaned up by a friend that’s just out of view? Good practice should be ingrained into the training to make them habit such as scanning 360 degrees after the threat is neutralised.
Remember to consider the consequences of your chosen response in each scenario. Would it be considered reasonable and necessary in the eyes of the law? Familiarise yourself with the your local laws and act accordingly within the scenario. I know as an instructor I would feel a great sense of guilt if one of my students wound up in gaol for excessive use of force, just as I would if they were harmed if I taught ineffective techniques. The workplace is another consideration. Would your actions cost you your job if you were at work? If a female is in a scenario where they could be sexually assaulted then it is quite reasonable to think they could go knuckle deep in the eye sockets of the attacker, if they were working as a nurse and harassed by a patient is there a less than lethal option that is protocol? We try to have a solution or way out that is non violent in every scenario, that is by using correct verbal de-escalation and/or conflict resolution skills or even fleeing (if you’re a fast runner). Remember context is key and also everyone has the right to defend themselves but don’t overdo it!
Engage the mind as well as the body
Reality based training differs from other classifications of martial arts as we try and simulate biological processes that occur in a confrontation. The body’s natural response to perceived danger where hormones like adrenalin and cortisol are released, include; increasing respiration and heart rates, the sense of nervousness and fatigue and loss of certain cognitive function. This is quite difficult to simulate, particularly with experienced students. New students engaging in this type of training may generally feel this before each class. To immerse their minds sometimes we need to engage in visualisation techniques or mental rehearsal to get the individual in the right frame of mind prior to the scenario. Visualisation is imagining a situation with a perfect outcome, in great detail and engaging as many senses as possible. The practitioner can actually experience skill enhancement of both physical and psychological reactions parallel with physical practice. This can be conducted almost anywhere and is relevant both in your own time and prior to entering a scenario to elicit an adrenal type response. Other ways we can achieve a similar reaction is through pre-exhaustion techniques. That is making the practitioner undergo some very intense anaerobic activity prior to the scenario, to increase both heart and respiration rates as well as that feeling of fatigue. Our favourite pre exhaustion tool is our air assault bike. Some trainers make participants spin around until they are dizzy to replicate being confused and stunned by a shot.
Extension / Diversification
There are many ways to make this relevant to differing levels of students. You can alter the speed, environment, contact & difficulty of the scenario. With advanced students I like to throw in a curveball, adding more attackers, a weapon or get them to start in less than optimal positions or left of field attacks. We can up the intensity and also the effect of their techniques on the attacker ie the initial response didn’t work. Like any training repetition is essential.
Rinse & Repeat
Once finished it’s a good idea to regroup and reflect on the scenario. Provide constructive feedback ie look at what went well and what didn’t. We often film our scenarios and review them shortly after. Once we identify methods of improving performance we redo the process again and again until we are satisfied with the outcome.and the reactions are becoming autonomous.
The options are endless it is only limited by your imagination; you can take a single skill and train it under a multitude of circumstances by altering a single variable. So before you start head to your local drama school to get your method acting on point, grab yourself a Spartan suit and keep it real!