Back to Basics

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

In the dojo

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

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

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

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

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

On the range

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

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

It is fundamental

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

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

Do You Know Thy Enemy?

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

Does it matter?


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

Analyzing your adversary

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

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

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

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

Adapt your training

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

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

Don’t get tunnel vision

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

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

Train Like You Fight, Fight Like You Train

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

Fight Like You Train:

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

Train Like You Fight:

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

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

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


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

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

Who Needs Training, I Have a Shotgun

Image by secretsath

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

What It Means To Be Indestructible

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Exaggerating the Basics

Aim small, hit small.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Putting it to practice

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

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

Applied elsewhere

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

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

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

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



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.


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 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.


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!

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