Archives for November 2013

Build A Training Support Structure You Can Be Proud Of


What is a training support structure? Your training support structure is the combination of your peers and mentors that help you to progress in your training, maximizing benefits while hopefully minimizing costs. Your support structure might consist of instructors who you train with regularly or periodically, peers you discuss the ups and downs of your training with, and your training partners who help you push yourself past your limits and provide active resistance and pressure to your training.

Why You Need a Training Support Structure

Some disciplines directly require support. Jiu-jitsu or wrestling for example are very dependent on training partners. Sure you could learn something in a book or on a DVD, but without a breathing opponent to help learn and test your new skills, you are unlikely to progress very far.

Other disciplines such as shooting don’t necessarily require a training partner. You can head to the range and shoot without someone else, right? Sure you could shoot alone all the time, but friendly competition and another set of eyes can do wonders to help you get past a plateau in your training.

A further part of your support structure should be your mentors. Just about anyone can be your mentor, even your shooting buddy or peers in the dojo. That said, seeking out someone who has been or is at where you want to be can help you find your way faster than you might on your own.

What Makes A Strong Support Structure?

The best support structure is going to always consist of 3 things. One, your training partners need to be accessible. If you don’t ever train with your training partners, then they really aren’t your training partners. The same goes for your mentors.

Two, your training partners need to care at least as much as you do. Dragging a new shooter to the range with you is a great thing for the community, for you, and the new shooter;however, your new shooter probably isn’t as interested as you (yet!), and likely doesn’t have enough experience to be of much help as a mentor. You still often can learn as much teaching as you can doing, but keep in mind balance is required. You need time to work on your own skills.

A training partner who can also serve as a mentor is a great thing. Find someone who you know performs better than you in an area you want to improve. The opportunity to watch and ask questions can be invaluable, but if you are lucky they might even give you some pointers.

Finally, there needs to be trust and respect. A partner or mentor who puts you down instead of picking you up isn’t helpful. A mentor you can’t trust to give you good advice is unhelpful. And training partners who hurt you instead of help you in the dojo are a hindrance not a help. A good partner knows how to work with you, not against you.

How To Build or Find a Support Structure

If you want a support structure to help you maximize your training, you need to go look for or build one. Generally speaking they don’t come to you.

If you are learning a martial art, like BJJ for example, your school essentially provides a support structure for you, in the form of both mentoring and peer support. If you shoot on the other hand, you might have to work harder to find support. Local training groups can be a great place to start as are the competitive shooting sports.  These groups can provide you with plenty of peers and mentors.

Sometimes you don’t have access to ready-made groups. In those cases you need to make an effort and build your own. Attending classes and seminars can provide you the mentoring part of your support system. Some instructors on the traveling road show make recurring trips to an area. Being consistent with one instructor every year can help because they can see as you progress.

A great example of an instructor like this is Craig Douglas. Many people take his ECQC  every year as a way to brush up on and test their skills, and as a result Craig can provide continuing feedback year after year.

These classes can be a great starting point for finding your training partners as well. Network with your fellow participants. Often times they will be local and like minded, making them great training partners. Starting your own group can be a great way to build your own support structure and help others along the way.

Do you have a training support structure? What does it look like, and how did you find or build it?

photo credit: Craig Sunter *Click-64* via photopin cc

Why Traditional Martial Arts Are More Valuable Than You Think

Traditional martial arts have more value than you think.

Traditional martial arts have more value than you think.

For a long time traditional martial arts have had a bad name. People look at karate, especially, and equate it with greed and poor business practices piled on top of horribly ineffective fighting skills. Unfortunately in most cases (at least around where I live) they aren’t seeing some mirage, they are seeing it for what it is.

The past few decades have seen a rapid increase in the quantity of crap karate and McDojos. The jerks that run these schools have run the name of good martial arts through the wringer and given the rest of us a bad name.

Two major factors contribute the most to this problem.

Good Salesmen With Bad Products

The first factor is that so many of the schools out there these days are in it only for the money. I have read countless reviews and heard a good number of anecdotes from people who have been greatly disappointed by their experiences at local schools.

The instructors are kids, the prices are exorbitant, and the business practices are nearly extortion. But the worst part isn’t the business side of things; even well-founded schools need to adopt some modern business practices to survive. It’s the quality of the training itself.

The problem with karate these days is that poor technique is very easy to propagate. After all, having low standards (or none at all) means almost anyone can pass belt tests until they are black belts and then get pushed into service as teachers. The faster these schools can churn out black belts, the more students they can take on, and the more money they can make. But bad breeds bad, and poor inputs always result in poor outputs.

Sadly, students often find it appealing when they are quickly promoted. But the truth is good technique takes a long time to develop. Few students are willing to put in the years of serious training it takes to become proficient, meaning good instructors are even rarer.

You can really see the proof just by watching videos online. Even the untrained eye can (usually) determine who the good students and instructors are when they comparison shop. But the evidence suggests that not enough people do comparison shop, or care for that matter, because these horrible schools are all still in business stealing money and further diluting good martial arts.

Applications Are Key

The other factor that plays in here is the lack of real application being taught in schools. At the root of all traditional martial arts are applications designed to make the techniques useful in a real altercation. Over the years these applications have become ignored or misunderstood. Competitive fighters then look at the kata (forms) of these systems and scoff at these wasteful dances and discount the whole system as garbage.

By leaving out the “details” of how a technique can be practically applied, it becomes easier for students to transition to teaching. But poorly taught students become poor teachers, and the quality of instruction in a given school quickly deteriorates. Once an understanding of practical application is lost, it can be very difficult to reacquire this knowledge.

Even good teachers of good martial arts can tend to lose their connection with the real roots of their system. Systems streamline and polish in the name of looking good and attracting students, and as a result the real value in their systems is lost… or at least hidden.

The systems that don’t totally throw away applications often see them mutate into unrealistic ‘history’ based applications. Many of the modern(or common?) explanations of applications are outright wrong. Spend enough time in a poor school (or on the internet) and you’ll see bizarre explanations for the applications of techniques in kata. A jump with a technique at the end becomes an unbelievable defense against an incoming sword. In reality dramatic defenses against swordsmen weren’t the intent behind these techniques.

Ultimately we don’t need new or modern applications to these techniques, we just need to see the ones that have been staring us in the face all along.

Squeeze every last ounce of value from the traditional martial arts

Rather than discount the traditional martial arts, the key is to know how to maximize value from them.

  1. Find a good school

A good school makes all the difference. How do you find one? Ask friends who are in the know, and look at the quality of the students a school produces. If the teacher looks skillful but his students all suck, move on. Try a class or two and avoid long term contracts.

  1. Don’t discount kata and other ‘archaic’ training tools

Kata and other aspects of these systems that have less immediate connection to realistic fighting are often hugely valuable over time. Deep stances are usually intended for training purposes, and many of the abstract movements will help you develop coordination and help you learn more advanced fighting applications down the road.

Sometimes good instructors don’t point out the value of kata and the applications to their students – at least not right away. Sometimes asking is all you need to do in order to get justification of the value of one of these training tools.

  1. Supplement with training that helps you connect to the real world

Finally, if your instructor doesn’t directly teach it, find someone who can help you connect the dots to the real world applications. It can take time to see the connection between traditional kata and real street fights. Learning a little about the context of a real fight will allow you to draw from your training and apply it to the real world. A great first step here is Craig Douglas’ ECQC.

I’m a big fan of good quality traditional martial arts, and a definite hater of poor ones. But maybe I am biased after 20 years studying kyokushin What do you think of traditional martial arts?

How To Carve Out an Ideal Dry-Fire Space In Your Home

Dry-FireI’m a strong proponent of dry-fire. Dry-fire is far cheaper and frankly more effective at developing skills related to shooting than live fire. Spending time at home dry-firing can improve your skills and requires far less time and commitment than heading to the range.

The key to being effective with dry-fire in your training is to make sure it becomes a consistent habit. Habitual training is far more valuable than sporadic and uncoordinated training sessions. Want to make dry-fire a habit? Find a space and designate it for your training to help eliminate excuses and make dry-fire easy.

What makes an ideal dry-fire space?

There is definitely an ideal setup for dry-fire. It can vary a little from person to person, but some aspects will always remain universal. You can’t always mimic this ideal dry-fire space in your own home, but the closer you can get, the more safe and effective you will be.

Remember that safety is paramount in dry-fire. Anytime you pick up a firearm and pull the trigger you need to be conscious of the potential repercussions of doing so. When mishandled, firearms can be very dangerous.

Remove all ammunition

The first rule of dry-fire is to remove all ammunition from the practice area. If you want to set up an ideal dry-fire space, you can take this a step further by banning all ammunition from your dry-fire space at all times. If you are using a gun that normally remains loaded, you want to load and unload away from the dry-fire space (and equally important you will only dry-fire in your designated space).

If no ammunition enters your dry-fire space, you can have a reasonable expectation that your gun will remain inert.

Have a good backstop

The second safety rule that often comes up in relation to dry-fire is to have a safe backstop. Some people use body armor behind their target or dry-fire at a book case (from the side to force any negligent discharge to travel through your reading material).

I find this approach a little over the top. After all if you are diligent about removing all ammunition why would you need a backstop? That said, caution should still be taken in choosing the location and direction of your dry-fire. Instead of a formal backstop, I prefer to guarantee that no person or thing will be in the path of my muzzle when I dry-fire. Dry-fire at your wife’s cat? Not a good idea. Dry-fire at a wall at the back of your home that has miles of state forest behind it? A much better idea.

Have a good floor

You wouldn’t immediately think that the floor would be important for dry-fire, but I think it is. Effective dry-fire covers more than just squeezing the trigger. You should be drawing, reloading, and even moving. A really hard floor can spell disaster if you drop your expensive mags or pistol on it.

Ideally you would have a thick and durable rug or carpet to provide cushioning. Realistically this isn’t always possible. There are alternatives such as a padded box to catch things like mags that you intentionally drop.

Work space can be key

When I dry-fire I tend to take notes about what I do and will often have a written plan beside me. I also like to have space to stow my magazines and pistol while I’m rearranging my gear. Finally, my laptop almost always gets involved, providing a cheap par timer. For me this means having a good work surface available. This could be the edge of a bed, a desk, table, or even some other improvised surface.

What to bring to your dry-fire space?

Once you have a designated dry-fire space you need to make sure you bring the right equipment to make the most of your dry-fire. The right tools make any job easier, and that applies to dry-fire as much as it does to building a shed or fixing your car.

So what do you really need for dry-fire? A few things are crucial:

  1. Your firearm – unloaded. If you have one, an inert dry-fire barrel can further improve the safety quotient, but it will hinder your ability to practice some things.

  2. Spare magazines – you will need magazines if you intend to make your dry-fire dynamic. The more magazines you have, the less often you need to bend down to pick them up. I usually use 6; your mileage may vary.

  3. Timer – shot timers are very helpful when your goal is to work on your speed. I generally use a timer in par time mode since most timers will not pick up dry-fire shots. Rather than mess with my range timer I tend to use my laptop and this great app.

  4. Notebook – Recording your progress allows you to measure yourself against past performance.

  5. Target – you definitely do not want to forget a target in dry-fire. My preferred dry-fire target gives me a variety of things to aim at and is scaled to take best advantage of the space I have.

A few other things help further improve your experience:

  1. Snap caps – these allow you to see that a reload actually worked (when a snap cap round ends up in the chamber), or they can be used for malfunction clearing drills.

  2. Weighted magazines – can allow you to practice certain manipulations more realistically. Some large capacity polymer framed guns handle significantly differently when full compared to empty.

  3. Video camera – recording yourself can be a very helpful tool for diagnosing shooting errors. Going back to the tape can help you see why your reloads fail or how to shave time off your draw-stroke.

Some example setups

Over the past year or so I have had two different dry-fire spaces. Originally I used my bedroom for convenience and comfort. This works great when you only spend time dry-firing at times when your spouse will not be in bed. If he or she is sick, good luck.

More recently I moved to the basement in anticipation of the incoming baby. Getting away from the main family spaces allows me to dry-fire in the morning before work or any time I don’t want to disturb the wife and kid.

Bedroom Setup

My bedroom setup was convenient for a variety of reasons. The carpet protected my mags, and my bed was correctly spaced from the wall to provide a good distance from my target and serve as a surface for my equipment. The nearby dresser also provided a great place to conveniently store all of my mags and my notebook between sessions.

As mentioned before, the big down side was that I was limited on when I could use the space. My wife isn’t a morning person and has been home for the past 9 months cooking up a baby, so trying to dry-fire in the bedroom before 10am noon isn’t really a great option.


Basement Setup

The basement setup is less ideal in some respects, but it allows me to train when I want. I have an additional safe in the basement, allowing me to keep a pistol and all of my training gear stowed near my dry-fire space. In the short term I have been using a stack of styrofoam shipping containers as a temporary work surface, which will be replaced by my workbench when complete.

The floor in the basement is definitely not ideal for dry-fire. Concrete and magazines is a recipe for eventual disaster. To mitigate this I took a cardboard box (thanks Ikea) and cut the top off. I filled this box with bubble wrap to provide ample cushioning.


I move the box around as necessary to catch my mags. While I usually manage to miss the box a few times per session, I find that dropping a few mags a week on concrete is far better than dropping each one on concrete 30-50 times per week.


Dry-fire is a great, inexpensive way to improve your shooting skills in the comfort of your home. Just how comfortable is largely dependent on how much thought goes into your dry-fire area. A well designed dry-fire area results in safe and efficient training.

Now it’s your turn. How is your dry-fire area setup? Please let us know in the comments below.

If you would like to share pictures and a please send them them to nick <at>, I’d love to see how you train.

After A Long Hiatus… I’m Back

IMG_20131012_104908_891It’s been a while since I posted last (a little over 4 months!), but I think I’m back… and hopefully here to stay for a while. The past few months have been crazy. Obligations at my day job ramped up quickly, eating just about every spare moment I had, even going so far as to knock dry-fire and time at the range off my radar over the past month or two. All of that culminated in a crazy couple of weeks including a 7 day period where I worked 100 hours (in addition to the time at the dojo and appointments for my wife).

The other reason my life has been crazy? My wife and I are expecting our first born son any day now welcomed a new member to our family a little over 3 weeks ago. Likely things will remain crazy for a while, but in a whole new and exciting way. With that in mind, I plan on getting back into the swing of things with writing for the blog over the next few weeks.

While I have been away I have learned a few brief lessons that apply to training. Some of these have been touched on briefly in the past, but sometimes I can be too hardheaded to learn something the first time around.

Don’t attempt to break patio blocks on grass (Or Ibuprofen is our friend)

While I was away from the blog, I performed a demonstration at one of the local town fairs. At the demo I did some tameshiwari (breaking). One of my breaks was a concrete patio block supported on cinder blocks. The cinder blocks were standing on grass.

My first attempted break? A straight downward punch.

Unfortunately patio blocks are hard and grass is soft. The pressure transferred to the ground instead of the patio block causing my hand to take more of the impact than the block. End result: much swelling and bruising and an unbroken block. Luckily X-Rays show my hand isn’t broken, but I type this with a still swollen knuckle over a month two months later. All the doctor can recommend at this point is some Ibuprofen to help what is likely a deep bone bruise to heal.

Lesson learned? Injuries suck.

I haven’t been able to hit anything with this hand or be at 100% since I hurt it. Avoiding injuries is the key to continuing your training and making progress. Want to really get good at something? Don’t get hurt so you can keep training.

Time is still always a huge factor in our training

I’ve written about this before. Time can be scarce and fitting training around our busy lives can be difficult. Sometimes we just need to let go and get through the crisis in front of us. Reducing the amount of training can help maintain skills, but sometimes rest is good for the body and the mind. My month of hell at work luckily coincided with my injury so it has allowed me to start my recovery during a period where I really didn’t have the time to train anyway.

Stress definitely affects our training

The last few weeks before I stopped my dry-fire routine due to my hectic schedule, I noticed a huge drop in performance. I wasn’t able to focus. Focus in training is very important. Only good reps count, and when your ratio of good to bad falls too low you risk doing more harm than good.

This goes back to the last point – sometimes dealing with a stressful situation and getting it out of the way is better for our long term growth than struggle with the balancing act. Distracted training can detract from your skill set more than no training at all.

Thank you all for holding out while I have been away. Going forward I’m hoping to get back to writing on a consistent basis. The next post will hopefully be up soon, but if it isn’t it should just be a matter of weeks not months.

If you haven’t yet, now is a great time to subscribe to the email list to make sure you don’t miss future posts as they are posted.

Now that I’m back, what would you like to see discussed in future posts? Please contact me or post a comment and let me know!

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