Apr 04, 2019

By Tristan Kealy

When thinking about situations where Self Defence is needed, this is a question I constantly explore the possible answers to. Is it better to train a set sequence of techniques, over and over again, until they become a part of our muscle memory and hopefully be able to recall the given technique and the sequence that it comprises of when it is needed? Or, is it better to play with self defence scenarios, look for the possible problems that may arise, try to answer the questions that present themselves, and then look and see if we can come up with common principles that lend themselves to a variety of situations?

Why are we discussing this topic?

One of the problems encountered when training self defence for reality-based situations is that quite often (most of the time) a predator will not follow the script that you have been rehearsing in class!

Techniques that you have learned in a “wrote maths” style of training in class, with a perfect partner who knows his/ her role to play and applies the attack in the exact, pre-determined, scripted way that you asked them to, will not translate in any way shape or form to the ways and means of an attack that a committed predator will employ.

Predatory attacks will occur at your most vulnerable and ill-prepared moments for you, they will be completely unscripted. Most likely the aggressor will already know how, when, and where he is going to perform his tasks. He will want it to be quick and effective, this means that when the attack comes it will be explosive, aggressive, and concise in its delivery, right when you are not expecting it.

In class, you will not be facing someone giving you their all-out focus and complete aggression with a mindset to utterly destroy you in the least amount of time possible. It is almost impossible to train this way without people becoming seriously injured. Unfortunately, when you train regularly with the same people, they start (through no fault of their own) becoming really obliging attackers. They might not apply attacks in a soft manner but they become very accurate in their delivery. For example, when applying a choke from behind, they apply the choke in the exact same place with the same technique and the same amount of force over and over again. Their bodies start moving in the directions you were going to force them into before you have even started to do so. The whole scenario has become “muscle memory” for them as well. If the practitioner is unfortunate enough to ever be attacked and choked from behind, even the slightest variation in the way that it is carried out can render their tried and tested technique useless in the blink of an eye. I haven’t even spoken about the adrenal dump, fear, and loss of fine motor skills that many victims of violent encounters experience which further impedes your chances of successfully remembering and performing a memorised set technique.

I can remember a time in class where I was teaching an experienced Judoka, there was a set technique I wanted to convey to the class and I asked this person if he would be willing to act as the aggressor. When I explained the scenario and he began his attack, he did so in a way that I would never have possibly imagined. Luckily, I was able to adapt and performed what I had in mind but for a split second my mind went BLANK!!! He did not do what my great training partners knew they had to do!!!

So, what is the answer?

Let’s take the example of a set technique that looks pretty good on paper and has a 100% success rate as long as the attacker performs their duties. If this technique were to fail as soon as we vary one part of the attack, it doesn’t mean there is nothing to gain from the technique, it will most likely employ some base principle that will allow it to be adapted and overcome the variances.

What I mean when we talk about principles and principle-based training and techniques is the discussion of things like, balance, base, connection, aggression, forward movement, breaking structure, and keeping yours. These are the principle-based ideals that if your training techniques aren’t incorporating at least some of these, then chances are they won’t stack up when you really need it.

Let’s discuss the choke from behind again, there are so many variations on the ways a person can attack a person from behind with a choke. I’m not entering into the discussion of being hit, weapons, multiple attackers, etc, I’m just talking about grabs, chokes, drags, etc. I have personally witnessed so many variations of techniques that are designed to combat so many variations of “specific” types of attacks (and I’m also sure that I haven’t seen all of them) that unless you were lucky enough to be attacked in one of the ways you’ve trained and it was done just like in class, I would be hedging my bets that it would probably fail, just when you needed it most. But, regardless of the way the choke is applied (excluding a fully locked, rear-naked choke) if you are able to turn into your attacker, regain your structure and balance, then you have a good fighting chance. This idea, these principles of regaining balance, base, structure, eliminating space then creating a connection with your attacker are core principles that can be applied to any technique. They are fundamentally easier to remember and recall, even when experiencing extreme duress and stress and being mindful of them whilst training will take you and everything that you practice to a whole new level. When you start to train with principles in mind you start to gain a greater appreciation for all that you do, both in your physical application as well as your mental understanding of what you are doing and how to constantly improve it.  

So, to sum up, even if you are firmly entrenched in the belief of set sequence training and drills, try applying some of the principles I have mentioned in this article to your training and see if it improves what you are doing. It may take you to a whole new level.