Traditional Martial Arts: A Strong Foundation

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve had a few opportunities to test some of my skills. First came a chance to practice the IDPA classifier with some of the IDPA guys at the range after a range cleanup day. While I’m certainly not a master class shooter quite yet, I did score pretty close to Expert. This was my first time attempting the classifier (or any IDPA stages for that matter) so I was pleased with myself. The following week during my own practice session I shot the fastest F.A.S.T. That I’ve shot yet: 6.5 seconds.

These aren’t huge accomplishments (at least in my eyes), and I have a long way to go to be where I really want to be with my skills. But looking at where I stand now with the amount of training I have, it brought me to realize something. I haven’t taken a full length pistol class yet. I’ve done modules at the first NEShooters Summit a few years ago, and I’ve done a decent amount of course work with instructors like Southnarc, but not a lot of work on the fundamentals or doing a fast draw, reload etc.

The reason I think this is significant is that I do have almost two decades of time spent training in a traditional martial art: Kyokushin Karate. While some may say my rapid improvement and performance is because I’m somehow a gifted athlete with great hand eye coordination, they would be wrong. Ask my wife how graceful I am, and she’ll be the first to tell you that I’m a complete klutz, at least when I’m not focused on a task.

Karate has taught me to be fast as well as able to refine and improve my body mechanics. Economy of movement has become second nature for me. Anyone who has many years of training will have noticed that picking up more advanced concepts and techniques tends to get easier. There is a reason that first degree blackbelt, Shodan, is considered the beginning. Until you have reached such a point in your training, you are just working on the basics to make further training possible.

This ability to pick up other body mechanics makes long time martial artists very quick studies when it comes to picking up another martial art-shooting included.

Anyone who would knock the traditional martial arts for self-defense is at a minimum neglecting to see the peripheral benefits of the training. A long investment in Karate or a similar system (being taught by a good instructor) is the formal education equivalent to getting your high school diploma. Without understanding the basics of arithmetic, writing, and science there is no way you can be reasonably successful in some college degree fields.

Instead of just looking at the face value of these martial arts for the defensive applications, consider them an investment in your martial education. There is more to self-defense than the latest and greatest technique or gadget.

Have you noticed the role traditional martial arts has played in your training?

5 Benefits of Competition

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In most areas of self-defense you can usually find some sort of competition. If you study BJJ or Karate there are tournaments for both. If you are a shooter, you can find everything from long distance rifle matches to games like IDPA and USPSA that test your ability to draw, move, and shoot under pressure.

Some people will say that games like IDPA are good training for defensive shooting. I disagree. IDPA or any of these other competitions are games that are bound by a set of rules. These rules either confine how you act and give you bad habits for the street, or they are just plain unrealistic due to the unpredictable nature of real-life.

That said, there are plenty of reasons to engage in competition.

Pressure

Competition is best for the pressure it puts on us. Competition is ultimately a test of skill, whether by ranking the competitors by their skills or by placing you head to head against another competitor. Pressure is key to making sure your training doesn’t fall apart in real life when the pressure means life or death.

Competitions add pressure in a number of ways. Some activities like IDPA put you against situations you cannot fully prepare for in advance. Being thrown into an unknown situation mimics real life and is a great way to test how you might react. Most competitions add some sort of audience. Whether it is the rest of the group you are squadded with for an IDPA stage or it is the crowd at a tournament, performing while people are watching and critiquing you can certainly add pressure. These situations are perfect for testing your ability to focus on the task at hand and ignore irrelevant distractions.

Most of these competitions also add some sort of time pressure. In the shooting sports you usually have a limited amount of time to complete a stage, or you are attempting to secure the lowest possible time. You can surely add time pressure yourself at home with a stop watch or a shot timer, but in competition you get all of these things at once.

Finding your weaknesses

Competition can be great for finding your shortcomings. IDPA for example has different stages. On one stage you might have to shoot entirely with your weak hand only. This might demonstrate your ability, or lack thereof, in that department. In a fighting competition, you might find that you lose a fight due to some area in which you were under-prepared. If your partner at the dojo favors certain tactics, you might not realize you are completely unprepared to handle a different set of tactics when confronted with them in competition. The competition helps you find these weaknesses so you can fix them.

Measuring Stick

Simply going against competitors is also a huge benefit. You may not see it this way, but competing with someone who is honestly trying to beat you can be great for your training. First and foremost this is your measuring stick. If I fight in a tournament, I generally get an idea for how well I stack up against my opponents. The same goes for shooting competition. I can compare myself to those who performed better and worse and determine how I am improving.

Watch what they do

You should see other competitors as an asset. You can always find a way to learn from someone else, whether they are at the top of their game or the bottom. Watch what the other competitors do, and you might notice things that help you improve your abilities, or things to watch out for (like bad habits). In my rifle marksmanship instruction I always learn more from watching my students shoot than I do when I myself am behind the sights. The same applies in competition.

Getting advice

Some competitions are friendly enough that you can expect to get good advice from those competitors that are better than you. Ask a Master Class shooter to critique your shooting, and you’ll be surprised that many will take you up on the offer. Take in all the advice you can, and treat these competitors as a resource.

Whatever the competition, there are benefits you can take away. Competition does not replace the need for dedicated application-specific training, nor does it perfectly test the skills and tactics you need on the street. Competition does give you many benefits and when used properly can help you develop and test your fighting skill set.

Did I miss any benefits? Do you compete? How do you benefit from competition? Post a comment below!

What Is Your Most Indispensable Piece of Training Gear?

When we train, we often use gear. Some gear is the actual gear that we are training to use – for example our carry pistol and the holster we carry it in. But there are many other pieces of gear we use because they allow us to more readily train realistically in a safe way.

Some pieces of training gear are certainly much more valuable than others. Some pieces of gear I can live without, others I cannot. Here are some examples of gear I have used:

Snap Caps / Dummy Rounds

Snap Caps and Dummy Rounds are invaluable for a number of training situations. They are great for Ball and Dummy simulating malfunctions, and they are crucial for practicing realistic reloads in dry-fire.

Blue Guns

Inert pistol trainers like blue guns are great for working on close quarters techniques and tactics. Being inert there is no projectile to worry about, and they are tough enough to stand up to hard use and abuse.

Targets

Targets aren’t the first thing that comes to mind when you talk about training gear, but whether you are at the range or practicing dry fire at home, having a target is key. Good targets add a lot to your training.

Trainer Knives

Training knives come in two varieties: non sharp replicas of real knives, and obviously fake stand-ins for real knives. The first group is great for working on knife access, especially in close quarters. The second type works well for practicing knife fighting skills. Both decrease the risk of a serious injury in training, as there is no good way to work on knife skills with live blades.

Focus Mitts and Shields

Focus mitts are excellent for working on striking accuracy and power. They can easily be moved to present different targets to your partner, and at the same time they allow you to work at full power without risking injury to your partner.

FIST Helmets

Protective gear like FIST Helmets allow for an improved level of realism in training. These protective helmets reduce the risk of serious injury when getting aggressive in a close quarters environment.

Mats

If you train any grappling art (like BJJ), you spend a lot of time on the mats. Systems that emphasize throwing (like Judo) are also very dependent on mats. Sure, you can train the same skills without them, but much more control is required and greater risk is involved.

Simunitions and Airsoft

Training firearms skills on live people with live guns is generally frowned upon. When a blue gun won’t do, an Airsoft or Sims gun can fill in the gap. They aren’t ideal for practicing multiple consecutive shots due to the reduced recoil, but they are great for scenario training.

These are a few training aids that I find valuable. If there is one I couldn’t do without it would probably be the snap caps, believe it or not. This is the one item I use almost every day, and it provides a multitude of options for training.

What training tools do you find invaluable? Is it one of these, or did I miss an important one? Please post a comment and let us know.

Do You Know How To Get Out?

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When visiting the doctor’s office recently, I discovered a weakness in my own preparedness and situational awareness. After walking to the exam room, I realized that I had lost track of how I got there.

This reminded me of several of the biographies I’ve read about Miyamoto Musashi. For those that don’t know, Musashi was one of the greatest swordsmen to have ever lived. He was a brilliant strategist and was extremely paranoid (and rightfully so). In these biographies I remember reading about how he would size up any building prior to entering. He noted where doors and windows were located and considered how he might escape from the building.

Know your exits

We should all try to employ this concept in life. Knowing where fire escapes and exits are located is always a good idea in any building. In the event of a fire or natural disaster, you will know where to go to get out quickly. In an active shooter scenario, you want to know how to get out and where to direct friends, family, or bystanders to get them out of harm’s way.

For a small building you can size it up prior to entering. For a large building, you need to constantly and consistently be building a mental map of the building. Always know how to return the way you came as well as noting emergency exits, windows, etc.

Training the skill

Practicing this is relatively low cost, but the opportunities might be rather limited. Remind yourself any time you are going somewhere unfamiliar that you should be constantly be taking these mental notes.

You can test and improve on this skill by randomly spot checking these notes. At any given point wherever you are, try to identify all your possible exit paths. You should aim to have at least three different ways to get out of a given building or area. If you are having trouble doing so, you need to pay closer attention.

Even better, try using these mental notes if the opportunity arises. If you feel confident about your navigational skills, try finding an alternative route out using the intelligence you gathered earlier. Test your ability to find a way out (so long as you can do so safely and without ruffling too many feathers).

Avoid being trapped in a strange place by knowing your exits ahead of time. Identify possible exit routes so you can get out at a moment’s notice. If you ever need to get out of a building quickly it will be far easier, and you will remain calmer knowing your exits ahead of time.

Do you identify your exits when entering an unknown building? How do you track your exits? Please share your knowledge in the comment section below.

Quantity vs Quality

A few months ago when I started this blog, I used the blog’s launch as a way to boost my own training. I have always enjoyed training in various ways for self-defense, but with this new mission in life to encourage others to train, I gave myself a great reason to take a look at my own training regimen. I have (happily) found ways to increase my own training time, and do so on a more regular schedule. One significant area of my training that has dramatically increased is my dry fire practice.

I knew dry fire was something I should be practicing, but I never seemed to have the time. Now I dry fire 5+ days a week. My sessions have been fairly long (30+ minutes at a time) consisting of dozens of reps for various skills. Depending on the day and my particular routine, I might end up practicing hundreds of repetitions.

What I’ve noticed recently is that after the first 10 or 20 reps my practice seems to start going down the drain. Each rep becomes less perfect than the one before it, and the focus dissipates. The part of my brain that knows about the one million other tasks that need to be done that day takes over and tries to influence me to get done sooner.

Over the past few days I’ve started changing up my routine, and instead of working on a few skills per day for many reps, I’m working fewer reps on a larger variety of skills. I notice that I get less fatigued with any given skill and I maintain interest much longer. Instead of 50 or 100 reps for each skill I practice 10 or 20.

This observation of mine has led me back to the question of quantity vs quality. Is it better to practice many imperfect reps or fewer reps that are closer to perfect? I have discussed on this blog the topic of perfect practice makes perfect.

Where exactly do we draw the line between quantity and quality? Would practicing one perfect rep a day be better than 10 mostly perfect, or are we better off doing 200 far from perfect reps?

One Take

Like all things in life, training is a balancing act between quantity and quality. The guiding factor for determining how much quantity we can handle is fatigue.

When we train we all suffer from fatigue eventually. We might have fatigue in our focus, our bodies, or our interest. To get the most out of our training, we need to maximize how much we can train before fatigue overpowers our gains.

Focus

For me focus can be one of the first things to go. The more reps I practice the more diluted every rep becomes. It is easy to focus on a single rep with the intention to make it as perfect as I can. Ten reps are a little harder, but provide more benefit than practicing something once. Try focusing for 100 reps, and you’ll be more likely to lose your focus on at least one.

Body

Muscle fatigue can set in with just about any physical activity. Even dry fire can cause fatigue in the arms from holding a pistol up, working the trigger, or practicing presenting the pistol. As fatigue builds it gradually introduces more error into your practice. Just as with focus, it’s easy to do one rep, but 100 might tire you out. When you get tired, expect to make mistakes.

Interest

Finally, interest wanes the more you practice. Like focus and your body, interest will become fatigued with time. If you practice the same skill for hundreds of repetitions, will you bore yourself? An uninterested student is less likely to put in the optimal effort. How many reps can you do before you get bored?

When you train, balance your fatigue with the gains you want to make. Find the point at which you can train enough to have the number of reps improve your skills while not fatiguing yourself to the point of practicing incorrectly. Make every rep perfect because you are focused, interested, and not exhausted and you have a higher likelihood of improving than if you are unfocused, disinterested and dead tired.

Where is your balance between quantity and quality?

Train in All Wardrobes

When you train for self-defense, the goal is to be ready to defend yourself whenever or wherever you may need to. Part of ensuring this preparedness is to train in the entire variety of clothing that you may wear. Drawing a pistol while wearing a vest for concealment is far different than drawing from underneath a t-shirt. Still harder is drawing from underneath a variety of winter layers. Unless you live somewhere warm and tropical you will probably be wearing multiple layers at some point during the year.

Image by frankh

Adapt

Self-defense is all about adapting. In this case you need to either adapt your training to work with what you wear, or adapt what you wear to meet the criteria of what you train for. If option two is available for you, take it. The narrower your set of wardrobe choices, the easier it will be to train for each possible scenario.

The rest of us need to be just as prepared for the day we wear a t-shirt as we are for the day we conceal in a tuckable holster in a suit. Take some time to practice at least occasionally in all modes of dress that you use.

Go to the range in a suit, you say?

I would rather not dirty my best suit at the range, so the way I achieve this type of practice is through dry-fire. Each day I take some time to dry-fire wearing whatever clothing I happened to wear that day. If it is a weekend, I’ll be drawing from beneath a t-shirt or a sweatshirt. During the week it might be a polo or a button down shirt. If I want to practice drawing from a suit I might need to set aside a special day to do so – I don’t wear suits very often.

Not just pistol training

The same training concept applies to more than just training to use a firearm for self-defense. You should practice any self-defense skill in the type of clothing you typically wear. Many martial artists spend their time training in various dogi and other uniforms. These uniforms are usually designed for maximum mobility. Compare this to most business wear and you’ll find many differences. Most business attire will hamper mobility to some extent, so it is a good idea to consider your limitations if you need to defend yourself while going about your day. You aren’t very likely to be caught in a life or death situation while wearing a dogi.

Training occasionally in your street clothes can be enlightening. You will find that different articles of clothing all have different effects on your mobility. It is better to know you can’t throw that kick or punch now while you are training than to discover it at the worst possible moment.

Wardrobe choice is just another aspect of train like you fight, fight like you train. In order to be truly prepared for self-defense, we must identify the scenarios we are most likely to encounter and practice accordingly. Our clothing is a big factor to consider when envisioning these possibilities. Make sure you understand your limitations in all modes of dress – and then figure out how to minimize them.

How Far Do You Take Your Training?

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If you want to survive a life or death encounter with an assailant, you need to invest some time training. How far you take that training will depend on a variety of factors, but ultimately it is up to you. Everyone has different requirements for what their training must prepare them for. And we all have different amounts of time, resources, and even physical ability to train.

Here are some factors that impact those decisions.

Risk

When I discuss risk in reference to training I am describing the risk of a threat of physical harm to your person (or the persons you may protect). Obviously a soldier or police officer will encounter far more risk day in and day out than I will on my daily commute to and from work. As a result, if risk were to be the sole basis for deciding how far to take your training, then clearly our soldiers and police officers have a greater need to take their training to a higher level.

Time

Time is another factor that distinguishes how we must train. The busy individual who works late and has many activities on their plate might not have the time to train as hard or as often as someone with a huge amount of free time. Some of us train for enjoyment as much as to be better prepared, so investing time in our training will not be as painful as it may be for the person who trains only to mitigate their risks.

Resources

Whether it is taking martial arts classes, heading to the range, or attending a class or seminar, training requires resources. To train we often need equipment or instruction, and that usually comes with a price tag. We can’t all financially afford to spend thousands of dollars a year to invest in our training. If you enjoy training, you’ll be far more likely to invest in classes and equipment. If you train because you need to or purely to mitigate risk, you might be less apt to spend so much.

Fitness

Some of us physically can’t train as hard as others. I wouldn’t expect a 70-something year old grandmother to be be taking a carbine class and running around with her rifle. Some people have physical disabilities and still others are just out of shape. All of these factors can dampen the level to which we take our training. One exception that should not limit your training is fitness. If you are out of shape and enjoy being out of shape that might affect your training; otherwise it’s a matter of effort to fix that condition.

Interest

Finally, where you take your training is directly related to how interested you are. I’ve touched on this before, but ultimately all of these other factors can be almost ignored if you have the interest to train. There is no reason not to push yourself to a higher standard and to train more if it is something you enjoy. Sure you might hit the point of diminishing returns, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a worthy use of your time.

Not everyone can become a Delta Operator. Your level of training may be limited, but ultimately you decide how far you want to go. Identifying the reasons you want to train can help you decide what your goals will be and how to achieve them.

Why do you train and how does that affect your level of training?

Stop Trying To Shoot Better

When I went shooting a few days ago I came to a familiar realization. Like many times before, I realized that when I try too hard I tend to screw things up. The more I ramp up the pressure on myself, the less smooth my actions become, and the more mistakes I make in my efforts to perform better.

Last weekend I was at the range working on improving my draw stroke and slide-lock reloads. To practice these skills I was using a 1Reload2 drill (draw, fire one shot, reload and fire two more). I was doing this drill with my shot timer in an attempt to measure how I was performing and push myself towards a faster time. What I found was that the harder I tried, the more often I would flub the draw or screw up the reload. My actions became jerky and not the smooth and calm movements I had emphasized in my dry-fire practice. Ultimately this hurt my time instead of improving it.

The same problems occur in my marksmanship training. These days I spend much more time teaching others how to shoot rifles than I spend shooting them myself. I’m trying to change that, but whenever I do get a chance to shoot a rifle I feel like the pressure on myself to do well is a huge barrier to success. I often start with a decent shot group, but the problem is knowing that I can do much better. I push myself to the point where my performance just gets worse, causing me more and more frustration. Eventually I have to pull myself back from the stress of trying too hard, and force myself to simply relax.

Rifle marksmanship, especially when you are talking about shooting using a sling, is ultimately about being relaxed. Let your bones and the sling do the support work while you align your body so you can make the shot. As they say, shooting is very much a mental game at this point. The harder you (or I in this case) actively try the more likely muscles are to become involved. I fuss the shot and as a result of trying too hard my groups open up.

Relax

If you find yourself having this problem yourself, go back to the basics. Be calm and collected and stop trying so hard. You’ll usually find that going a little slower and not making mistakes is actually faster than going as fast as you can and struggling the whole way there.

We put pressure on ourselves to do better with every shot, to increase our speed and get tighter groups. This pressure ultimately serves to do nothing other than to make things more difficult.

Personally I shoot the best when I have no expectations for myself. A couple years ago I had a chance to shoot my AR15 out to 600 yards. I was having trouble seeing the target through my iron sights and figured my rough elevation adjustment would be off anyway, so I really didn’t expect to even hit the target. I relaxed and shot a carefree group by the basics, and I was totally shocked when I saw the great group on my target.

I am fastest and most efficient when I worry less about speed and instead just worry about being smooth and practicing the fundamentals. You too may be surprised at the difference when you stop trying so hard to shoot your best. Focus on the technique rather than trying to make each shot perfect.

Remember slow is smooth, smooth is fast.

Does self-imposed pressure negatively impact your performance? Let us know and post a comment below!

Learn to Take a Hit

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In many martial arts, great time and effort is spent on body conditioning. Fighters in arts like Kyokushin condition their shins and sometimes forearms by rapping on them with bundles of chopsticks. They condition their legs by kicking each other, and learn to absorb body shots similarly by practicing taking punches and kicks.

These practitioners do not train to take hits instead of learning how to properly defend. It is usually better to avoid getting hit in the first place, but a wise student learns to accept that you will not always be fast enough to block something.

Fighters, especially full contact fighters (knockdown, MMA, etc) end up taking a lot of abuse during their fighting careers. A top level tournament fighter might have to fight 5 or more fights over a day or two in order to win his tournament. UFC fights are relatively long fights as well, with many long rounds. A great level of physical conditioning is required to be competitive.

What about those of us who don’t compete, but instead try to prepare for the fight that they hope never comes?

Should the student who prepares only for self-defense (and not competition) practice this way?

On the surface, no…

If you do not compete as a fighter, you aren’t likely to experience a long fight. Most self-defense encounters tend to be very violent, intense events but are also relatively short. I would not expect to be fighting for the 15 minutes or more that a professional MMA fight might take.

The average self-defense student is also unlikely to fight sequentially for days. He might fight multiple attackers, but not individually spread out over the course of a few hours.

Fighters also have other reasons to worry about conditioning. The purpose of most body conditioning is not necessarily to mitigate damage. Being hit can help build your body up and make it stronger against being hit in the future, but most conditioning helps serve to deaden nerves and make you impervious to the mental disruption that can come with being hit.

In any life or death encounter on the street, adrenaline will be a huge factor. You probably won’t feel most of the shots you take anyway. The first time I fought in a tournament in my youth I didn’t feel a single shot I took until about 30 minutes after the fight, at which point I couldn’t bend my leg and walking was… difficult. Conditioning has little effect on that first encounter.

The next time I fought, the first shot I took went right through me and I quickly realized something was different. Fighters condition because they won’t have the huge benefit of adrenaline at every fight. If you are jumped on the street, adrenaline is one advantage you can probably count on.

How to take a hit

If I’m too slow to get out of the way, I can position my body to mitigate the hit that I do take. Practicing getting hit means that when you are unable to block, you can at least take the hit on your terms. Generally this involves turning your body into the blow to brace yourself for the hit.

Face it, in a street fight you are going to get hit. If that is the case, shouldn’t we learn how to take the hit and not fold over like a cheap suit? Adrenaline can help you with pain and make you stronger, but it won’t keep the wind from getting knocked out of you. Learning how to properly exhale when being hit can.

While conditioning in itself might not make a huge difference, practicing how to get hit can. Your time is well spent learning how to properly take a punch or a kick. While conditioning can be useful as part of your routine, learning the best way to take a hit will give you much more bang for your buck.

Do you practice how to get hit?

Implicit vs Explicit Action

How would you describe the way you train? I would venture to guess that most people train implicitly and intend to act explicitly if the time ever comes. Let’s define what I mean by implicitly and explicitly.

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Implicit

im·plic·it

[im-plis-it] adjective

1. implied, rather than expressly stated: implicit agreement.

When I refer to implicit, I mean that things happen on their own. When we train implicitly, our bodies take over and our conscious mind gets to go for a ride. In training this leads to a sort of training coma where your body just goes through the motions.

For example do you ever go to the range and just start blasting away without a plan or specific goal in mind? Probably not for serious training purposes. But on the street we hope to make our actions implicit. What I mean here is that our training should take over. If we have correctly identified and improved on our weaknesses, our skills should be able to take the reins in a critical incident without relying on explicitly conscious efforts.

Explicit

ex·plic·it

[ik-splis-it] adjective

1. fully and clearly expressed or demonstrated; leaving nothing merely implied;

If we want our real-world reactions to be implicit, we should conduct ourselves explicitly when training By this I mean that every action, movement, and thought we carry out in training should be intentional. Anything we repeat in our training is going to ultimately become a habit. Therefore, our goal should be to make sure we produce only good habits in our training. Training hundreds of repetitions without thought into each rep is going to create bad habits that will be hard to break.

On the street, on the other hand, explicit action is decidedly slower and less efficient. Drawing a pistol, or reacting to a knife should be quick, decisive, and thoughtless. The only explicit actions you should be taking in a life or death scenario should be the decisions about things like taking the shot, or whether to draw your pistol in the first place.

I never want to draw a pistol simply because some trained stimulus set some series of actions in motion. I want to make a conscious, deliberate decision to draw. Once I have made that decision, however, my training should do the work of putting the tools to use.

Do you train explicitly or implicitly?

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