Who Needs Training, I Have a Shotgun

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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.

Really.

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.

 

 

Pressure Testing

Training always falls into three major phases: preparation, testing, and recovery. Preparation is where most of the time is spent: improving conditioning, running drills, and building skills. Every so often your training should be tested. Validate what you have and make sure the approach you are taking is working. Finally you recover and plan to correct the weaknesses and points of failure in your training so far.

Pressure testing can be the most important part of training; without it your training can go on infinitely with little real progress. Without some sort of pressure or stimulus your training will take the path of least resistance, right into non-existence. Pressure forces you to evolve and learn, and without it false confidence forms instead of real skills development.

The exact methods of pressure testing will vary based on the discipline being trained. There are, however, some common concepts that can be applied to some degree in all areas.

Partner

Adding a partner is the simplest way to add pressure to your training. A non-compliant adversary who is trying to thwart your efforts can significantly crank up the pressure.

This concept is what prevents most of the grappling arts from succumbing to the common pitfalls of the striking arts. Have you noticed how much harder it is to fake it in the grappling arts? Grappling always requires a partner, and therefore the pressure testing loop is closed.

In the arena of shooting, a partner is more difficult to implement. You can’t easily shoot your buddy for the sake of training. Simunitions or airsoft are valid options, but on the range a partner can also be used with two other types of pressure.

Time

Time is one of the easiest ways to add pressure to your firearms training. When you need to complete a task within a certain amount of time or for best time, it’s easy to start making mistakes. Even just racing against your own times can be a great way to make things more difficult.

A partner can create time pressure on the range when both partners are attempting to complete the same task. The race can force you to complete tasks quickly and efficiently. Someone will come out on top. This does require both partners to be relatively close in their speed or the effect is lost. If one partner is significantly faster, try a time handicap, adding time to the stronger partner’s time until both are performing roughly equally.

Adding time pressure to hand to hand training can be harder to implement. Giving yourself a time limit to reach a goal like achieving a submission or escaping from a disadvantageous situation is a great way to do this. This simulates the need to escape chokes, for example, before oxygen or blood runs out.

Stress

Just increasing the pressure can be a great way to pressure test your training. A partner or coach screaming at you as you try to perform even the simplest malfunction clearing drill can make the task much more difficult.

Another way to aid in increasing the stress level is to always pressure test with as many unknowns as possible. When training with a group, try to make the pressure testing exercises new and unique. Give the testee only the rules needed to keep things safe and let the other participants know the rest of the scenario. The test becomes more realistic as you adapt to an unknown hostile situation.

Another great way to insert stress is to cause unexpected surprises. Load your partner’s magazines with some dummy rounds. Unexpected issues like a malfunction can raise the stress level through the roof, especially during a timed session.

 

Remember that the reason we train so hard is to make the simple tasks unconscious. The way to win in a life or death conflict is to be able to think about the big picture while your body does what you need it to do. The only way to make sure you are hitting all the necessary skills and ingraining them deep enough is by ratcheting up the pressure.

What pressure testing methods do you use? Share your tricks and tips in the comments below!

Introducing Indestructible Training

Welcome to Indestructible Training. This is the first post in what will hopefully be many on the subject of training. More specifically training in preparation for violent confrontation. I will not be spending much time pointing out specific skills or tactics. Instead I will be focusing on a systematic approach to combining those skills and tactics, and infusing your training with some realism. My mission is to help you take your current knowledge and make it more applicable to the real world.

It is also my goal here to foster some community. No one person has all the answers when it comes to the subject of violent confrontation. By commenting and providing your own insights on the topic, we can all grow together as we forge ourselves in training. I look forward to interacting with all of you.

 

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