Archives for December 2011

Training Considerations When Selecting a Pistol

I strongly believe anyone who legally can should learn how to employ a pistol to its greatest effect. If you can legally carry one concealed, you should make every effort to do so. Self-defense boils down to controlling your environment. A pistol lets you control more of it when the chips are down.

 There are plenty of articles out there to compare and contrast the differences in various rounds: would the ultimate concealed carry pistol be a 9mm or a .45? There are plenty that compare sizes: should you carry a full size service pistol, or a subcompact? And there certainly are plenty of online flame wars discussing which is the best brand and model. Reliability, accuracy, and features are all points of many lengthy discussions.

 While all of those things certainly do factor into what pistol you plan to entrust your life to, there is something else that I believe is even more important: does this pistol facilitate training? The most important thing you need in a pistol is the ability to train with it. If you cannot train with your weapon of choice, it’s a toss up whether you can actually use it effectively when you need to.

 Can you train with it safely?

 This is a fairly silly question, but it does need asking. Can you train with this pistol safely? Some people decide that an inexpensive Makarov or other inexpensive classic that isn’t drop safe is the best firearm for them. I’ve heard plenty of stories about a dropped pistol discharging and injuring its owner. If you plan on training aggressively, you want something you can safely drop. If you can’t safely train with your pistol, maybe it’s time to go gun shopping.

 Do you enjoy training with it?

 While a carry firearm is a tool, if you do not enjoy training with it, you won’t train with it. Simple as that. If the gun is easy to conceal but is too small to be fun to shoot, you’ll carry it, but you’ll never spend the time with it on the range that you need to.

 Can you find an inert training replica?

 While it isn’t 100% necessary, finding an inert training replica (a blue gun for example) of your carry gun is a great way to be able to train without risk of damage to the gun, or damage to your training partners. If you practice any gun grappling, it is certainly safer to train with an inert gun than a real one. I also find that an inert replica works great for practicing presentation of the firearm.

 Can you find and afford the ammunition?

 If you cannot find ammunition or afford it, then you cannot train with the gun. I prefer a 9mm myself because the ammo is less expensive than .40 or .45 and I feel it still gets the job done. Generally it isn’t too hard to find practice ammunition in these common calibers. Some people decide to carry a small .32 or .380 and find that ammunition is scarce. I would rather carry something that doesn’t require a pilgrimage to find ammo.

 Are there .22 conversions or training models available?

 Regardless of the round your carry gun uses, it’s cheaper to practice with .22 than it is to practice in the caliber you carry. There are limitations to how these conversions and clone models can be used in your training, but they certainly can help to increase the volume of your training. Check out this article by Todd Green on the pros and cons of .22 trainers.

 Are there Airsoft replicas available?

 Another great training method is to use an Airsoft training replica of your firearm. This allows you to practice force on force scenarios without having to shoot your training partner. Training with Airsoft of course isn’t perfect, but availability should definitely be in the back of your mind when selecting a carry weapon.

 Can you dry fire it?

 Dry fire is a great way to practice your skills. It’s the cheapest practice you can get. It can do great things for your marksmanship, speed of presentation, and efficiency reloading. Not all firearms can be dry fired, but just about every modern center-fire can be. Make sure you check when deciding what pistol is right for you.

Of course there is plenty more to think about when selecting a pistol. Remember that no matter how reliable or accurate your pistol is, if you can’t train with it, you may very well be useless with it when you need it.

Back to Basics

In my training I have found quite a few parallels among the various disciplines. Some things are very consistent from one skill set to another despite being developed in greatly different environments. Today I am pointing out some similarities I have found between my karate training and defensive pistol shooting.

In the dojo

In most traditional karate systems, a great emphasis is placed on training what is called kihon, or basics. This can be implemented in many ways from standing in lines practicing each technique to a count, or moving up and down the floor performing these techniques (edo geiko). Pre-arranged groups of techniques (kata) is also employed in many traditional systems.

The other side of the coin is the training of the applications of these techniques. Sparring (kumite) and the practice of self-defense techniques (goshin-jitsu) are used. Students can very easily see how this practice is applied on the street.

As an example, think about punching. When performing kihon, I teach my students to punch from a chamber position with their fist below the armpit, palm faced upwards. They thrust outwards, turning their first until the palm is downwards while simultaneously drawing the other hand back in a straight line into that same chamber position. How could this possibly be used in real life? Our hands are not up covering our head and we are punching from a very static position – not a great stance in a fight.

Many people who train have come to their own self-realized conclusions that this type of training has no value. I strongly disagree.

While throwing punches from a fighting posture seems much different, learning to drive a strong punch in the traditional way teaches you how to generate power in ways you cannot easily see when training application. There is huge value in pursuing this type of training. By building a strong foundation on the basics you can significantly improve your speed and power. Without this foundation your technique amounts to nothing more than flailing around.

On the range

In a similar vein, many individuals shun the idea of standing and shooting for tight groups on the “square range”. Again I have to disagree. A key part to improving the effectiveness of our shooting is training the fundamentals. Any shooter must put a significant portion of their training into improving and maintaining their marksmanship abilities.

This is just like with karate in the previous example. We train the punch to be fast, straight and powerful before taking it to application. So we must also apply this with our shooting. Only once we can shoot effectively at the fundamental level can we really hope to train for more realistic applications. Without the marksmanship all other training is just an expensive way to make noise. You really cannot miss fast enough to hit your target.

It is fundamental

It really doesn’t matter what you are trying to perfect. Until you can do something at its most basic level without any form of pressure how can you expect to perform on demand? Professional basketball players practice taking unimpeded shots. Calligraphers practice singular strokes of the brush. I think it’s quite reasonable to keep going back to basics in our training too.

In what ways do you go back to basics in your training?  Post a comment below!

Do You Know Thy Enemy?

Why do you train? I’m going to stop and make an assumption here for a moment that your training in some form of combatives is because you want to increase your efficacy at fighting. Whether you are training to be a competition fighter or learning how to be a door-kicker to go on tour over in the sandbox, you are training with a particular adversary in mind. It might be the champ you’re fighting next week at the local fight night or it could be some scumbag who wants to kill you and destroy everything you stand for.

Does it matter?


Knowing the tools, techniques, and tactics of your adversary can be the difference between survival and death. Without an idea of your adversary and his strengths or weaknesses you could be putting too much emphasis on unnecessary skills and creating your own weaknesses.

Analyzing your adversary

Before starting a new training regimen (or at least before getting too deep in your training), sit down and think about who you are fighting. If you have a specific person in mind, you need to do some research and find out their specific history, watch some film, whatever it takes.

If you’re training for a slightly more generic mission, you need to look at the generic adversary.

I train to prepare for that day that will hopefully never come when someone decides to try and mug or kill me in the street. My adversary will probably be some lowlife, and he will probably have a friend or friends who are trying to help him. He’ll likely be armed and think that I am not armed. He will attack me when he thinks he has the upper hand. He is more likely to want something I have than take my life, but I can’t assume that is the case.

Make sure you take the time to figure out who you will be fighting.

Adapt your training

Once you know your adversary, it is time to adjust your training. Find out what holes in your current training exist that this adversary might exploit and plan on fixing them. What skills do you need to defeat him?

Training just to train is great, but training with a purpose is better. Make sure to pressure test with this opponent in mind. Did you find yourself winded or outmatched in your strength? You should also adapt your physical training to fill the gaps found by pressure testing.

Don’t get tunnel vision

Once you finish making your plan for adapting your training, don’t forget to check for and try to prevent tunnel vision. Just because you have an IDEA who your adversary is doesn’t mean you have him pegged. Even if you know who your adversary is next week ,you still need to think about the next fight. Make sure you look at your specific plan and look at your own known general strengths and weaknesses. Adapt this plan as needed to make sure you are constantly working to improve. Life is unpredictable and so is your opponent.

Who is your enemy? What do you need to focus? Share your thoughts with us in the comment section.

Train Like You Fight, Fight Like You Train

“Train Like You Fight, Fight Like You Train.” We’ve all heard this well-known slogan, and some of us even claim to live by it. What does it really mean, and how can we apply it to our training?

Fight Like You Train:

When push comes to shove, your training is what you fall back on in the real world. All of the great daydreams you’ve had about how you will deal with a given situation will remain just that – day dreams. When tested under pressure, your body will invariably return to what it knows the best. This simple fact indicates that if we end up in a violent confrontation, a fight in a tournament, or even an action pistol match, we will react exactly as we have trained. This can be good, or it can be bad.Avoid reinforcing bad habits because whatever you have practiced the most will be how you react when the pressure is turned up.

Train Like You Fight:

Because we have determined that we will react how we have trained, we need to take every precaution to make sure that the reaction that occurs in the real world is the one that we want to occur.

In the realm of shooting there are some very specific examples of “training like you fight.” With a pistol, when performing an emergency reload I do not want the habit of retaining my magazines. As a result I make sure to drop them. With a revolver, most shooters empty the cylinder onto the bench instead of dropping the shells. A bad habit in real life. Things like press-checking can also be bad habits if done in the “heat of battle.” Avoid ingraining these habits, even if it means inconveniencing yourself at the range to do so. Try to do everything the way you would in a fight, every time.

In the martial arts the same principle applies. The habit of dropping one’s guard or taking an extra step before kicking can be great ways to open yourself up for punishment against an experienced adversary. When fatigued we often revert to these habits because it is simply easier to do for most people. Incorrect repetitions like this ultimately make your unfatigued response the same.


The only way to verify that you are not building bad habits is to pressure test your training, find your weaknesses, and correct them. Don’t let convenience drive your training. The first part of the statement, “Fight like you train,” is an immutable truth. This is how the world works, and you cannot change it. “Train like you fight” is a recommendation, always train the way you want to fight, otherwise those bad habits will show up when you least want them.

What bad habits have you ingrained in training, and how have they cost you?

Who Needs Training, I Have a Shotgun

Image by secretsath

One of my biggest pet peeves about self-defense and training is that so many short-sighted individuals think they have a catch-all solution. They believe that some piece of equipment or special technique will save them from anything that they might have to deal with, rather than acknowledge that defending oneself or one’s home requires persistent practice and a variety of skills.

I don’t need to practice, I have a shotgun

My favorite is the shotgun excuse. I’ve never been a fan of shotguns myself. They can be great toys and can be applied to great effect in some situations, but to me they are not the precise implement of death that a pistol or rifle can be.

People who own only a shotgun tend to believe that it’s all they need. Since it shoots a pattern instead of a single projectile it reduces the need for accuracy. This in turn leads people to not train. If you believe a shotgun is the best tool for the job, so be it. But if you pick up a shotgun, shoot it a few times and then put it away, you are being foolish. You must constantly train with any weapon you intend to use. A special weapon is not a replacement for your training.

I don’t need to learn that, I’ll just shoot them

The other great fallacy is believing a gun will solve all of your problems:

“I don’t need to know how to fight hand to hand, know how to employ a knife, or be able to grapple because I have a gun.”

This ridiculous conclusion is made far too often. The real world does not afford us the ability to choose when we have to fight. In fact life can surprise us when we least expect it. Most muggings happen at close range, and when the attacker has the initiative. This means you’ll probably be more in need of those close combat skills than you think.


This is only a small sample of the kind of thick-headed excuses for not training.

What other short-sighted excuses have you seen for not training?

6 Questions to Ask Yourself When Looking For a Dojo

On Friday last week Caleb Giddings made an astute observation that even Krav Maga is heading the way of the McDojo. I would have to agree. No longer can you rely on the name of the system to indicate its validity. Unfortunately a lot of people are trying to make a living off this stuff, ultimately leading to a lowering of standards.

What’s worse is most people do not know what to look for when they are trying to find a school or instructor. It is often the flashy and unrealistic garbage that uninformed people are drawn to. Compounding the problem is the fact that there are more of these “McDojos” out there than there are good ones. So how do you actually go about finding a good instructor or school?

There are a number of factors that come in to play. Even a good school can be plagued by some of the bad traits. Choosing a dojo is a subjective decision… and I would definitely recommend looking around at multiple dojos before settling on one. Here are a few questions you can ask yourself when investigating a dojo.

Does the instructor have a day job?

Most of the great instructors I have come across in life have a day job. Their art is a passion that encompasses much of their spare time, but they do not teach for a living. When teaching for a living, it is not uncommon to lower standards in order to keep students in the dojo. Students are money, and when your income comes entirely from your class enrollment, you will do what you need to in order to keep the business going.

Very few instructors can manage to teach for a living. Most of those who do it successfully without compromising their standards live and teach in a very densely populated area and happen to have very little competition.

How often are people promoted?

In order to pay the bills, most instructors in McDojos will promote people often and for a pricey testing fee. The more ranks in the syllabus, the more money they can collect from you over time. Watch out for these fees and speedy promotion, they usually indicate that the dojo exists to make someone a living.

Do the students sweat in class?

Sweat is not bad, and does not indicate that you are looking at a pure fitness class.

Fighting is a physical activity!

When you watch a class, if the students aren’t breaking a sweat, it is time to move on. I have trained with some excellent instructors who love to talk (and their students love to listen), but with every single one of them I have broken a solid sweat. If you can spend a whole class standing around you are in the wrong place.

How long are the classes?

Dojos that exist purely to extract money from their customers often have very short classes. No matter how you slice it, 45 minutes is too short for an adult martial arts class. Look for at least one hour, but 1.5 – 2 hours is better. Does the instructor try to pack many short sessions into the schedule in order to get more people through the door? This is a sure sign that you should look elsewhere.

How much does it cost?

Even the best dojos shouldn’t charge you an arm and a leg. Prices tend to be higher in the city than the rural areas as costs are higher, but if you’re being charged 200 dollars a month, odds are you need to look somewhere else. Commercial schools often charge a lot in order to pay the bills and support an instructor who doesn’t have a day job.

Do they offer specials for an accelerated black belt program?

No one should guarantee you a black belt in any amount of time… ever. The coveted black belt is somthing that is earned, not bought. While putting your time in is a big part of it, no instructor with any sense of decency will promote someone to blackbelt just for paying their dues. If you find a school with these practices you need to keep looking.


Many of these things should be obvious, but I have seen many people completely miss these signs of a poor school. Shop around, do your research, and watch or take a class or two before you commit to anything. This is by no means a comprehensive list of what to avoid when looking for a good dojo. Do yourself the due diligence before selecting an instructor and throwing your money away.

What would you add to this list? Post a comment and tell us!

In Speed, Less is More

Speed is a desirable attribute for anyone concerned with self-defense. A faster draw stroke or block can often be the difference between life and death when it really counts. When people try to improve their speed, I often see an excess of well… everything. Despite what your ego is telling you, flailing around like a coked up monkey running through a burning building doesn’t make you fast.

You see, speed is essentially the lack of all extra movements. It has less to do with how hard you try and much more to do with how much or little you do. Most beginners find themselves working as hard as they can to be faster. This extra effort to be faster actually turns out to be detrimental to the cause. Why you ask? Because this effort tends to change the trajectory of a movement.

In theory the fastest way to get from A to B is a straight line. In practice this isn’t the case because we have to negotiate obstacles. These obstacles cause us to modify our path from A to B. We can optimize this path to minimize the time it takes by not stopping at C on the way. Our extra effort often results in us making this extra stop despite not intentionally doing so. If we truly want to maximize speed, we must train ourselves to get rid of any and all extraneous movement.

Starting slow

In training we can minimize movement by first practicing slower. This may seem counter-intuitive, but when broken down it makes a lot of sense. By practicing slow we can perfect the movements we make. Remember while practicing that the less movement you make while practicing the task, the faster it should be when going full speed. When you are confident that you have the most efficient possible movements you are ready to move on to the next step.

Accelerating your techniques

The next step is to increase speed. This should be gradual so you can continue to monitor your technique. Investing the time to practice your movements slowly and efficiently is for nothing if you toss everything out the window as soon as you go fast. Carefully speed things up, watching for extra, unneeded movement. By gradually ramping up we can consciously avoid reawakening our bad habits.

Maintaining speed

Getting there is the hard part, but like most things, speed is a perishable commodity. We need to work hard to maintain our speed. Practicing slowly as a regular part of your training can be a great way to reinforce the good habits and suppress the bad.

Just remember, “Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.”

How do you practice to improve your speed? Let us know by leaving a comment.

Your Opponent Is Training Harder Than You

Need some motivation to go hit the gym, the mat, or the range? Well here it is: your opponent is training harder than you! This might not always be the case, but there is at least a slight chance that this is true. Do you really want to leave something like your life to chance?

Somewhere out there someone is better prepared than you are. They may just be stronger or faster, but they might even have a better developed skill set. These advantages your adversary has on you could be the difference between you that causes you to lose, or worse – die.

When you go train today, this week, or anytime for that matter, tell yourself:

My opponent is training harder than I am.

Fix it. Push yourself for one more rep on an exercise. Ultimately in most endeavors you need to push yourself harder. No one else can make you put in the effort that you need. Determine what your limit is, and try and push that limit every time you train. If you can’t raise the bar you most likely aren’t trying hard enough. All true gains come from within.

Making your training sessions more effective is just a piece of the puzzle. Not only is your opponent training harder than you, he is training more than you too.

My opponent is training more than I am.

Tell yourself that every morning. Use it as inspiration to find time to squeeze in another session each week. If you tell yourself that one hour of practice a week is enough then you are destined to fail. If you want to get good at something, you need to do it a lot. Train hard, but also train often. Get your lazy ass out of bed and do something.

Quantity doesn’t always beat quality, however. Your opponent is also probably training smarter than you are too.

My opponent is training smarter than I am.

Could it be true? Dedicate some amount of time each week to research training techniques, tactics and instructors. You need to go beyond just volume and continually try and improve how you train in order to maximize the results. Don’t get spastic about your training. Stick with what you are doing long enough to see results, or the absence of results. Without some consistency you cannot evaluate what is really working and what is a bunch of hype.


I hope I have inspired you not only to go train, but to go train harder, longer, and smarter than you are now. Don’t give up, and train like your life depends on it. Someday it might.

What It Means To Be Indestructible

When I first set out to put together this blog I spent a decent amount of time thinking about what I might call it. One theme that kept coming back to the forefront of my thoughts was that of being indestructible.

I’m willing to bet that 9 out of 10 of you at some point have fantasized about being like our favorite heroes from the movies. Who wouldn’t want to have the skills and instincts of characters like Jason Bourne, Bryan Mills, Bruce Wayne, or Frank Castle? Well if you won’t admit it, then I will. What makes these individuals so great? They rarely make mistakes. They solve problems with extreme prejudice and have a very particular set of skills.

Why wouldn’t you want to have the qualities that make these fictional characters indestructible? I can’t answer that. But I might be able to help you to figure out what separates these individuals from you and I. What separates the stratum of indestructibles from the rest of us? Great choreography.


If you could see the future and add special effects you too could be indestructible.

The other difference is that these characters, in their fictional worlds, have all invested great amounts of time into their training. Their training has cemented the skills that make what they do possible. This eliminates the need to think about the basics and allows them to consciously focus on solving the problem at hand. Effectively, their training becomes Indestructible. We are not indestructible, nor can we ever be. But we can always strive for the closest approximation.

“The beginner trains until he gets it right, the expert trains until he cannot get it wrong.”

I’m sure you’ve heard some variation of this quote. Train your skills until they are automatic. Make your training solid so it cannot fail. One of the surest paths to defeat is to have your training fall apart when you really need it. When your training is indestructible then you will be as close to indestructible as you can get.

Exaggerating the Basics

Aim small, hit small.

Have you heard the line before? It’s a very basic concept that amounts to aiming at a smaller target (or a smaller area on a large target) in order to increase your overall accuracy. But this concept stretches far further than that.

Why do we want to aim small when we train? Adrenaline.

Unless you’re at that public range with the dope with no muzzle control, your adrenaline level is minimal when training. The pressure is relatively low when you are working on the basics. But what happens when you need to recall these skills on the street?

Adrenaline is a funny ‘feature’ that we developed long ago as humans evolved. It gives us great strength and speed and helps us survive many life or death situations. Unfortunately for mankind most of our evolution occured before the genesis of modern combat. Fine motor skills only became relevant to our life and death struggles relatively recently. Adrenaline does some funny things to our fine motor skills, and just about everything in shooting is fine motor skills.

We train with smaller targets or by following this “aim small, hit small” philosophy because it leaves room for error. If we hold ourselves to higher standards when training, then we can afford the inevitable involuntary degradation that occurs when our training meets the real world.

Hits count, and you need to guarantee them when your life or the lives of others depend on them. Can you really afford to be just good enough on the range?

Putting it to practice

For shooting it is pretty clear how to apply this concept to your training. The simplest way is to mark your full size silhouette with a smaller bullseye. Even a circle drawn with a magic marker will do. When training only accept hits on this smaller circle rather than anywhere on the silhouette. This smaller target will require you to slow down and make sure you hit. If you can hit a smaller bullseye quickly, it stands to reason that you should be able to hit the shilouette when the shit starts flying.

Another way I put this to practice actually saves me money. I print out smaller silhouettes and post them at the same distances I would use for the larger ones. This would have the same effect as shooting from a greater distance with the original targets. This forces you to practice shooting at a smaller target. You must try to hold yourself to a higher standard on a reduced size target or you risk the opposite effect. Keep in mind this cannot completely replace your use of full size targets at actual distance, especially when pressure testing yourself.

Applied elsewhere

Despite bringing this up as a shooting concept, it absolutely does not end there. When training a few years at a Kyokushin summer camp I had the fortune to train with Shihan Cameron Quinn. During one of the sessions he put great emphasis on the same subject. He told us not to aim for the chin with a punch, but to aim for the gnat on the hair on the mole on the chin. This is the same idea of aiming small, hitting small. Precision enhances your efficacy in all arenas of combat.

I was also trained as a student of Kyokushin to “Exaggerate your kihon(basics)”. This exaggeration serves two purposes. Firstly by exaggerating you are reinforcing correctness. When we have the opportunity to train without the pressure we should capitalize on the opportunity and make sure our technique is correct. Want to see some poor technique? Just add pressure. Additionally adrenaline has a nasty side effect of shortening muscles. This shortening means that a technique that isn’t exaggerated in practice will be tiny if not non-existent when applied to the real world in real stress. Unless you think T-rex arms are the best self-defense technique you can see really easily how this can be a problem.

This principle can be applied to just about anything that is practiced under low pressure but needed in a high pressure environment. Make sure everything is as good as it possibly can be in training so when you need it, your training won’t let you down.

How have you applied this concept in your training? Join the conversation by posting a comment below.



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