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!