I’m about to be mean, insulting, and sound bitter. Despite all this I do think there’s benefit to martial arts training – if you can work around the bad stuff. This article’s to help you work around the bad training, and get in some good training.
1 – Sparring
The number 1 problem with sparring (most training for that matter) is that you don’t fight to the goal. Or more correctly, you fight to a bad goal, and you’re not even aware what goal you’re actually training for.
So you’re doing your Krav Maga line drills (person 1 steps forward with attack X; person 2 counters with defense Y; then they swap roles and repeat). So let’s just clarify this in our heads. You know that this guy’s going to try hit you, and, instead of running away screaming (or screaming, kicking him in the nuts, then running away), you stand there, practising standing still while someone tries to hit you.
Or you’re doing some sparring at kickboxing, dancing around your partner, trading shots. Which of the following goals are you training for? You are:
A) Training to end a bad situation as quickly as possible, e.g. by running away, or using overwhelming violence?
B) Practising staying involved in a physically violent confrontation that you voluntarily chose to get involved in? (a physiologically ineffective one to boot)
So when you spar with your partner…what are you actually doing? You’re taking pot-shots at each other. You’re dancing around each other, looking for openings, analysing what he’s doing. You’re also not looking for escape options are you? Think back to your training – how many times did you try to escape? While circling around your partner did you ever end up between him and the exit? I know I ended up in that situation plenty of times. I didn’t run away either. I can’t even begin to count how many times I completely ignored the idea of escape while sparring. My entire goal was exchanging punches (i.e. choosing to stay in a fight – i.e. not self defense).
So how do you adapt your sparring so you train to a better goal? Would it be better if you were rather trying to escape?
2 – Face to face. Mano a mano baby.
Did your sparring/training ever include multiple attackers? If your martial arts training was anything like mine, your answer is probably somewhere between “no” and “not often”. What if you could routinely adapt your standard McDojo training so that you find yourself constantly having to avoid a second attacker? Would that be something you’d want in your training? Then read on.
It came out of nowhere…
So I was sparring at kickboxing this one time, and the guy I was “fighting” pulled out his Spyderco Delica and just rushed me. Man don’t you hate it when that happens? I would too if it ever actually happened. Sparring is like isolation exercises in weightlifting. They’re great if you have a particular problem or weakness that you know about, and know how to fix. But then you go back to your regular training. You don’t do only those types of exercises, you do whole body, integrated exercises.
So we’ve established that nobody in your mainstream reality based self defense\MMA\UFC\traditional martial arts\kickboxing school is going to randomly pull a weapon on you. So how do you do weapon awareness training in martial arts class? Well honestly, not that well. But there are ways to adapt your training that can raise your weapons awareness during sparring. (More details further down the article.)
3 – Ground and pound
The ground and pound is taught liberally and extensively. It is taught in many, many, many, many schools and dojos and self defense courses around the world. The ground and pound is a great technique in MMA and cage fighting. It works wonders to dominate your opponent and get him to submit to you. Which is great training because in self defense you have an opponent, not an attacker, right? And making him submit is both legal and the objective we’re aiming for in self defense, right? Or course it is. In a self defense situation we want nothing more than to knock the BG down to the ground, and then instead of running away, we climb on top of him (getting close to him, cause he won’t have weapons, or make a comeback), and punch him repeatedly in the hard skull with our fragile hands.
Ok, sarcasm aside, ground and pound is one of the surest ways to guarantee that what you’re doing is NOT self defense. Even if it started out as a valid SD situation, knocking him down usually means you have the opportunity to escape. If it’s just him, then having the option to “ground and pound” means you have the option to escape or try something else. Staying engaged unnecessarily at this point is illegal. And if there’s more than just one, getting focused on one BG and ignoring the others is also probably not such a hot idea.
If there’s more than 1 BG, the getting low to the ground, in order to pound the dude you were fortunate enough to put down, is a very good way to put your head at the right level for the other BG’s to drop kick over a goal post.
There’s one situation I can think up where I can see a “ground and pound” being not only valid self defense (arguably), but also a good idea. And even then it’s still the worst way to achieve the goal anyway. I live in South Africa where home invasions are popular. And one of the more common tactics as I understand it, is to take the husband to the room with the safe/valuables and separate him from the other family members. If you find yourself alone with 1 BG instead of 2 or 3, then your odds have improved from pretty much doomed, to only seriously in shit. Let’s say you’re being dragged off to go get rope from the garage (after they’ve fucked you up a bit). This might be your best chance to save your family. So maybe you manage to put the BG on the ground. But what if he fights back and tries to warn the others. Will they hurt your family? Who knows. Maybe not, but with family on the line not knowing for certain is usually answer enough. So this BG needs to be unconscious or dead. Quickly. So, ground and pound? Yes. But not quite. You need someone to be disabled quickly – trying to do this with punches to the face is definitely one of the slower ways to do it. Sure you could make him read Ulysses until he passes out, but if you want him to go under FAST, then ground and pound is not a good way to do it. There’s a reason why it’s allowable in sports: it’s not all that dangerous, and it’s slow enough to be good entertainment.
(Let’s let the angry, betrayed, MMA’ers calm down for a second.) So what’s possibly more badass and vicious than ground and pound? Well, how about instead of punching his face, you use his head to punch the ground? Or punch his throat rather. Or crush his throat by squeezing, or break his neck with a 2-way force + impact combination. Or even better, how about not getting close to him? How about stomping his brains out or breaking his neck with your foot? Certainly these are faster than using one of your most fragile body parts to attack one of his toughest.
Training to your own goal
Your sifu/master/guru/instructor has certain goals. Get you to pass a grading test to reach the next belt. Make you better at what they consider “fighting” (usually some form of sparring). Some are just there to make a bit of cash. Some of them love what they do. Regardless, the thing to understand is that their goals are not the same as your goals (such as staying within legal bounds of self defense; getting home in 1 piece; avoiding the shit in the first place). They are helping you to achieve THEIR goals, not necessarily your goals.
So what do we do?
So what you’re going to do is mentally retake control of the goals you’re building towards.
Ever since I read about somebody who, first time walking into a bar, looks for all the tables with sharp corners (to push people’s kidneys into), I’ve liked the idea. So when sparring at kickboxing I took to picking someone I wasn’t sparring with, and conspired to get my partner to walk into Mr. Unsuspecting Target. I figured being able to control the direction my opponent moved would be a good habit. Next time you’re free sparring, try get your partner near an exit. Or try walk him into a bystander. Or for bonus points, get him to trip over something lying on the floor. So when everybody else is working on their “tactics” (choosing which punch you want to practise) you’re working on strategy (choosing the the move/step/feint/look that will achieve your overall goal).
Weapons awareness training in martial arts? Not likely
For learning to deal with an armed opponent we’re going to start by carrying a weapon to your martial arts class (yes, including during the sparring, the grappling, drills, the throws, everything). This means that you’re going to get acquainted very quickly with how much a weapon can shift around (depending on the setup you go with); how much you have to fiddle with it to keep it in place. And you will surely learn very quickly if you weapon isn’t held securely in it’s holster/sheath. While you’re unlikely to see anyone else doing this in class, after some time it should become more natural for you to spot any strangers on the street doing the same thing, simply because you’ve been doing it so much. Kind of like only really noticing how many pregnant women there are in the world after you get your wife pregnant the first time.
In addition to this you’re to practise “frisk fighting”. So during your training you’re going to make sure to include punching the other dude in the stomach, bumping up against him. Any kind of contact that will help you identify if any of your classmates carry in the appendix position. And at the same time you are going to practise being extra sensitive about getting hit in the stomach – because you don’t want any training partners asking “What’s that hard thing by your stomach?” Answering “Belt buckle.” is less believable when everyone is usually wearing tracksuit pants (although saying “Balls of brass” is more fun).
The whole object of frisk fighting is to try and “frisk” the dude for weapons while you’re fighting, and to try and take his to use against him. And stop him taking your’s. So be very aware about protecting your stomach (or at least monitoring it) during your sparring etc. This one definitely has the potential to get interesting when grappling.
This is also a great way to find out how well your knife clip actually holds the weapon in place. Just saying. Not like I’ve ever dropped a folder on the floor of the gym in front of everybody. Not me.
Oh, and if you carry a pistol – for fuck’s sake make sure it’s empty first.
Now for the aerobics
I hope you’re ready to get some extra cardio done. And to practise your footwork. This next adaptation of your martial arts training is sure to get you heart-rate elevated.
2 on 1
Like I said earlier, my kickboxing training didn’t involve much (any) multiple attackers work. Which is a great pity in my opinion. I’m pretty sure that this is true for almost every martial arts student in the world. So we’re going to fix that. And, besides from maybe a couple strange looks, nobody in the class is likely to know what you’re doing.
The multiple attackers adaptation
So when sparring (this one doesn’t really work for line drills/kata etc.) you’re going to pick someone you’re not sparring with, and pretend he’s attacking you as well. This doesn’t mean run up behind him and punch him in the kidneys, it means make sure that you keep your sparring partner directly between you and the mentally chosen second attacker. Dance around as much as you need to make sure that the guy you are actively punching is the only one who has a chance of hitting you back.
Will this fix everything?
Not at all. But martial arts training is fun, and there are some benefits. So if we can make our training more effective, why not? I hope those of you active in the martial arts find these ideas useful. If anyone tries them out, please let me know if they help.