Archives for January 2012

Beginning Training Series: Putting It All Together

This will be the final post to wrap up my series on beginning training.

 Training for what could be a life or death situation requires training in many different areas. Fitness, shooting, and combatives are all pieces of the puzzle. Mastery in any one area does not ensure your survival because there are no rules in real life. You may be the best shooter in the world, but it won’t save you when someone clubs you from behind.

 Just as mastery in any one area doesn’t guarantee survival, neither does mastery in all areas. Life is unpredictable- all we really can do is give ourselves the best chance possible of survival. Part of this is learning to put all the skills together.

 Mixing colors

 The core of your training boils down to the primary skills like your shooting, grappling, and knife work for example. These primary colors need to be blended. You may find yourself needing to employ a firearm while grappling, or utilize a knife in order to protect a firearm. Finding instruction and experimenting with methods to combine all the pieces of your training is the key to maximizing your chances of survival. Don’t leave this to chance, learn how to integrate your training.

Going above and beyond

Eventually you will find your core competency will reach the point where you feel confident in your ability to protect yourself. This is an indication that you need to find a way to further challenge yourself. You can always find a class or instructor who can make you feel very weak and defenseless. Never cease in your mission to improve.

Find the edge cases of your training. You should always be pushing the envelope and finding the weak areas. For example, how do your skills apply when placed in a different environment, like a vehicle? Do your tactics still work if you are injured?

Training isn’t a one time thing, nor a short term endeavor. You must commit yourself to it, or failing that, hire a body guard. Remember, never cease in your practice. Always seek to grow your skills, and train like tomorrow might be your last day. Hopefully it won’t be.

Beginning Training Series: Getting Started With Weapons

Today I will be discussing training with weapons as part of my series on beginning training.

The defining factor for most self-defense situations is that they are unequal initiative, disproportionate armament type events. You are likely to be surprised by your attackers and/or they will be more heavily armed than you. You can mitigate the initiative problem by learning to be more aware and avoiding dangerous situations. We can also mitigate the problem of being outgunned by studying the use of various weapon systems and adding them to the kit we carry with us every day.

There are four main categories of weapons you might consider for self-defense: firearms, edged weapons, blunt weapons, and non-lethal weapons.

Before you read on, remember that it is your own responsibility to know the local laws and regulations pertaining to any weapon you might want to carry.

Firearms

If you want to maximize your ability to defend yourself across all situations, you should strongly consider adding firearms to your training regimen. Firearms are tools that extend your reach and allow you to solve problems in ways your empty hands or other weapons just don’t allow. They are the eternal equalizer that can shrink physical gaps between you and your adversaries.

Training with firearms is not something that should be taken lightly. While they can be very powerful tools, they can also be very dangerous. In the hands of an untrained individual, firearms often have disastrous consequences for oneself or loved ones. I would recommend seeking out instruction if you are a beginner, rather than diving in blind. Find an instructor at a local club or range, or an experienced friend who can show you the ropes. Learn the basic safety rules and how to handle a firearm safely.

I would strongly recommend learning with a .22 first. This allows you to learn safety and proper operation with minimal recoil so you develop good habits. Personally I spent about a year shooting nothing but a .22 pistol before moving up in caliber. I attribute most of my trigger control and marksmanship ability to not jumping the gun (no pun intended) on stepping up to the next caliber. Habits are harder to break than they are to make, so start yourself off by creating good habits that you won’t need to break later.

Once you have complete control of the basics, you can move on to learning how to properly draw the firearm and employ it in defensive situations. You owe it to yourself to seek out a good instructor, whether local or not, to help you master these skills.

Keep in mind that the only responsible way to carry a firearm is to make the time to properly train yourself in its use. Put in the time at the range, but don’t forget that dry fire is an excellent way to improve your skills for a small fraction of the cost. Also remember that you should always be prepared (both mentally and physically) to use any weapon you choose to carry.

Edged Weapons

Edged weapons are a category that includes primarily various types of knives. Edged weapons can often be easier to legally carry in some localities, and are usually far easier to conceal. Training with knives is often overlooked. Many of us carry knives and haven’t sought out much instruction in their use. I am guilty of this myself, having limited training with them. You should try to find some instruction, or at a minimum find a good book or DVD on the matter.

Blunt Weapons

Another category of defensive weapons is blunt weapons or impact weapons. These include everything from batons and expandable batons to kubotans, black jacks, etc. You must not take for granted that you can posses or carry these weapons, so make sure you are familiar with your local law.

As with knives and guns, you should make sure you make an effort to learn the proper use of these weapons if you intend to carry one. Most common are things like kubotans or defensive styluses which can easily be carried on a key chain. It should be easy to find an instructor who will teach the effective use of such a weapon – you should seek one out and attend a seminar or class if you carry one.

Non-lethal

This catch all category includes a variety of self-defense weapons that are intended to be non-lethal options. Tasers, stun guns, and pepper spray are all marketed as great self-defense weapons with minimal risk of killing your attacker. They are often marketed as not requiring much if any training, but if you rely on them you should still find instruction. No tool is a perfect solution, you should train with anything you intend to use to protect your life. Again you need to worry about local laws because, surprisingly enough, these non-lethal options can be illegal in many places. I grew up in Massachusetts, and pepper spray requires a license to carry in that state!

Also note that something like pepper spray can be a great tool to add to your repertoire even if you carry other weapons. It is always a good idea to have options, and a non-lethal option might allow you to avoid immediately escalating to guns or knives in some situations.

These are all various options you have when considering adding weapons to your defensive repertoire. If you are just starting your foray into self-defense, or if you are ready to take it to the next level, you should seek out instruction in various weapons systems. Even for those of us with substantial martial arts training, empty hands are not perfect weapons. Augment yourself with weapons and proper training, and you increase your likelihood of survival.

What weapons have you trained with, and how do you include them in your daily carry? Let us know by posting a comment!

Beginning Training Series: Hand to Hand and Traditional Martial Arts

Today I will be discussing fighting skills, specifically unarmed combat and traditional martial arts as part of my series on beginning training.

Fighting skills should be a major component of any self-defense training regimen. In order to truly be prepared for a violent confrontation, you need to be able to handle yourself with and without a weapon. We will discuss in the next post about how weapons fit into the picture, but today we are going to cover hand to hand fighting skills.

Striking or Grappling

When you break down all major martial arts systems that are intended for hand to hand combat, you essentially get two categories: striking and grappling. Some systems cross over that line more than others, but these are really the only two methods of empty-handed fighting.

Striking arts like Boxing, Karate, Taekwondo, and Muay Thai for example focus on using punches, kicks, and other strikes in order inflict damage to one’s opponent. The advantage to learning a striking art is being able to fight without becoming entangled with your opponent. On the street becoming entangled, especially on the ground, should be avoided whenever possible. Having one or both hands free improves your chances when fighting multiple adversaries. Unfortunately many real fights have a tendency to go to the ground.

Grappling arts like Jujitsu, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Judo, and Wrestling focus on fighting an opponent primarily without the use of strikes. There is an advantage to learning how to grapple. If you end up in a fight, you are likely to find yourself in a scenario where grappling may be needed. Many street fights go to the ground, a bad place to be if your opponent has friends. Knowing how to grapple is your best bet to get out of these scenarios.

Think of it this way: if your only experience is with striking, you won’t know how to handle yourself if you get stuck in a grappling situation. On the other hand, if your only experience is with grappling, you are more likely to end up grappling (the very situation you should be trying to avoid).

Which should you learn? I recommend trying to practice both. If time only allows you to practice one, find a way to spend some time cross training the other. Every little bit helps in your efforts to be prepared to defend yourself.

Traditional Martial Arts

As time goes on, the “McDojo” fad has been driving people away from studying traditional martial arts. These dojos tend to overcharge and under-train, and they give many of the martial systems a bad name. Despite this, I would still consider traditional martial arts a valuable thing to study, and something you should seriously consider learning – if a decent instructor is available to you. If you find yourself looking for a school, check out my post about finding a good dojo.

When choosing a system, note that traditional martial arts have value that you tend to miss out on when studying the non-traditional systems. Many of the traditional systems put emphasis on training the basics and practicing kata (also known as forms). My experience is that this emphasis creates a well-rounded student. I have found that my time training in Kyokushin has made much of my non-traditional learning, and even my firearms training much simpler. In these traditional systems, you learn more than just how to punch and kick, but how to use the whole body in order to get the best economy of motion.

Finding a good martial arts school should be high on your priority list if you wish to improve your capacity for self-defense. Almost any system will do as long as the instructor is good. Having some formal martial education will significantly improve your skills and pave the way for learning new ones.

Have questions or advice about hand to hand martial arts? Post them in the comments!

Beginning Training Series: Getting Your Fitness Off the Ground Level

Today I will be discussing improving your base level of fitness as part of my series on beginning training.

I am a big believer that if you want to train to defend yourself in any type of confrontation, then you need to work on your fitness. Fighting is a distinctly physical activity no matter what tools you may be using. If you expect to survive the fight (or want to have any hope of surviving for that matter) then you definitely need to work on improving your body.

 For the purposes of fighting, there are five main areas that you need to work on improving: flexibility, strength, agility, endurance, and speed. Without training in each of these five attributes, you are severely limiting your performance when you need it.

 Flexibility

The most overlooked attribute is flexibility. Flexibility helps prevent injuries, and also gives you better mobility. After all, your goal in a fight is to stay conscious and mobile. This past year when I took Southnarc’s VCAST (Vehicle Combatives and Shooting Tactics) course, I had many of my older classmates jealous because of the way I could move around on the ground around the vehicle. My advantage in this arena isn’t because I’m younger (though it helps), but rather is because of my time training in Kyokushin. Not everyone needs to know how to throw high kicks, especially since they have limited practicality on the street. Everyone should, on the other hand, have functional flexibility.

The very beginning of you work on flexibility should be to work on improving range of motion in a handful of areas. Think back to the stretches you may have learned in gym class. An easy way to fit this in to your schedule is to stretch a little when you wake up in the morning. Try a stretching routine like this one, it’s a good start for basic flexibility. Another great option is yoga. Don’t knock it just because it’s a popular group exercise class for women. Many great fighters and trainers swear by it, and have great results.

Strength

Strength affects all areas of your self-defense. A contest between two technically equivalent fighters can often be decided on strength. Muscle allows you to absorb more damage and, if used correctly, deal out more as well. There are many ways to approach improving strength. This will all depend on your own exact goals.

If you have the time and resources, a full weight routine can give you excellent strength gains. If you cannot spare the time or money to hit a gym, you can do quite a bit in your home without weights. At a minimum you should be doing some basic body-weight exercises like pullups, dips, pushups, squats and crunches.

Agility

Agility directly affects our mobility. Mobility is key in any life or death situation, so you can see the value. Better agility will allow us to change directions, start moving, or stop moving very quickly.

The basics for improving agility involve performing agility-requiring movements. Work on changing directions quickly and starting movement from a dead stop. Playing some pickup games of basketball or another agility-heavy sport might be a good way to work on agility while enjoying yourself. Here is an article on improving agility you might want to check out.

Endurance

Endurance is often trained in an ineffective manner. Many people that think they are training endurance for the purpose of preparing themselves for fighting or a self-defense encounter spend significant time hitting the pavement or running on the treadmill. The reason this is so ineffective is that no fight is ever that smooth and continuous.

Fighting generally involves short periods of extreme exertion followed by other periods of milder effort. If you are attached to your running, consider adding intervals to your training. Spend 20 seconds sprinting and 20 seconds jogging or walking. You can vary the times for each. This will better simulate a fight than running at a constant speed.

The other reason that distance running tends to be a poor option for training fighting endurance is that there is minimal load. Combining strength training and interval training is a great way to push your endurance. When lifting, try using lighter weights with higher reps and decrease the time in between sets. Another option is to run, jog, or shadow box in between sets. There are plenty of options you can experiment with.

Speed

Speed is a very important attribute for us to train if we want to maximize our potential in a violent confrontation. Being fast allows us to get our sights on target faster, and hit before our adversary. Speed also allows us to out-maneuver our adversary. Remember that mobility is key to staying alive.

Speed is the lack of all extraneous movement. Believe it or not, we can improve speed by training slowly. Work on removing all unneeded motions and taking the most efficient path to where you are moving. If you want more detail on how to do this, check out my post about increasing your speed.

Improving

When you sit down to put together your plan, set goals for all five of these attributes. Set measurable goals, and choose exercises and drills that allow you to meet them. Practice as often as your schedule will allow. The only real obstacle to achieving your fitness goals is lack of training.

Do you have any suggestions for improving fitness? Please post a comment!

Beginning Training Series: Setting Goals and Making Them Happen

Today I will be discussing setting goals and how to achieve them as part of my series on beginning training.

Setting Goals

Possibly the most important thing to be thinking about when you are trying to begin your training is to make sure you have clear goals set. Not setting goals is one of the worst things you can do. With no clear target, your training will be aimless and eventually will fall into the background. Face it, we all live very busy lives, and one of the first things to get sacrificed is our training time.

Here are some things to think about when setting goals:

Limit the total number of goals:

Having 20 goals means you probably won’t achieve most of them. The more goals you have, the more divided your time will be. Keep the number down somewhere between three and seven, and focus on those.

Prioritize your goals:

If you have a lot of goals, there will be times you’ll have to sacrifice some of them due to limited time. Make sure you have an idea which ones are more important to you.

Make them attainable:

I can set a goal to be able to do one million pullups and be able to hit a quarter from 200 yards one handed with a pocket pistol. This doesn’t mean I have any chance of succeeding. Pick goals and limit them in scope to what you can achieve. When you get there you can always set a new goal. Make sure your deadlines are realistic as well.

Use measurable goals:

Not all goals are created equal. A measurable goal will always be better than an unmeasurable one. What I mean by this is that if you have no way to measure your progress against a goal, then you are wasting your time. Rather than set a goal to ‘shoot faster’ I would set a goal like shooting a clean FAST in under 5 seconds.

Set a due date:

Goals without a due date tend not to be met. If you don’t have that deadline you won’t maximize your effort to get it done. A good way to keep motivated is to set intermediate deadlines and goals that help you achieve the big one. Try not to have more than a few months to your next deadline.

Attaining your goals

Once you have set your goals, you need to make sure you have a plan to get there. Can I really expect to achieve my goals if I set them and forget them? A good way to make sure you succeed is by using a training journal. Write down your goals and track your progress. If improving your shooting is part of your goal, keep track of not only your scores and times, but where your shots hit the target. You never know when looking at months of shooting history might lead to an epiphany or help you diagnose a hardware problem.

 The most important part of reaching your goals is to map each goal to a training activity or activities. If I want to get stronger, then I should be planning on setting aside time to strength train. If I want to speed up my draw-stroke, I need to plan on spending time training that. It isn’t rocket science, but it is easy to forget that you need to set up a program based on what you want to achieve.

 Now that you know what you need to do and what your priorities are, it is time to start setting up that program.

 Creating a program

 If you have a tight schedule, this may be more difficult. If your schedule is consistent, grab your calendar when you sit down to do this. You need to break out different blocks of time, and make sure each of the activities you selected for reaching your goals is fit into each one. You can make Mondays and Wednesdays gym days and Tuesdays and Thursdays combatives days with the weekend dedicated to shooting for example. This all comes down to you, what you are trying to achieve, and when you have time to do it.

 If your schedule isn’t as predictable, you might consider determining what the blocks are without scheduling them. You can then rotate which block you do whenever you have some time. Here is where you priorities come into play. If you cannot always do everything, start at the beginning of your list again every week. Make sure your higher priority activities are at the beginning of the list, and you should always be able to make time for your highest priority.

 Tracking results

 The second half of making sure that you achieve your goals is logging your progress. The key benefit to keeping the training journal is that you can see progress. Progress is a great motivator. However, don’t be discouraged if progress is slow. Never use your journal as an excuse to change your training plans every day. Give yourself a good several weeks to several months to decide if something is or isn’t working for you.

Everything in your training ultimately begins and ends with goals. First, you select them. Second, you determine the best way to achieve them. Next, you work towards achieving them. And finally you measure your success.

 What are your goals for your training in 2012? Please post a comment and share them.

Beginning Training Series: How to Get Started

Every New Year, many people around the world set new goals and make resolutions. If your resolution is to start training, or even just refresh your training paradigm, then you are in the right place. There is a lot to talk about on this subject, so I’ll be posting a series of five posts this week. Each of these posts will cover one aspect of your training for the coming year and help you create your own training plan.

 The subjects I will be covering:

  1. Setting Goals and Making Them Happen – Everything begins with some sort of goal We’ll discuss how to set measurable and attainable goals and how you can track your progress.

  2. Getting Your Fitness Off the Ground Level – While solid skills can mitigate poor fitness, optimal performance will always come from someone in optimum shape.

  3. Hand to Hand and Traditional Martial Arts – Sometimes your weapons are not available. The skills and conditioning attained from most fighting systems can be an asset when it matters.

  4. Getting Started With Weapons – Arming ourselves can give us a definitive advantage. We will discuss various weapon options you should consider training with.

  5. Putting It All Together – All these skills are useless unless you train to put them all together.

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