Martial art practice in my understanding has to serve the following purposes:
- Be practical, adaptable and applicable to real world situations
- Simplify and narrow down the appropriate situational responses by utilizing a basic common movement platform
- Fortify mind and spirit of a practitioner
- Build realistic attitude towards one’s fighting abilities
- Strengthen the body for a lifetime and preserve the health of a practitioner for the time when it really counts
- Continuously remove practitioner’s mind and body limitations
- Provide with a vehicle for continuous self-improvement
In order to be combat effective in the real world, a martial arts system needs to have the right balance between the following components:
- Tactical training, designed to maximize combat effectiveness and minimize wasted energy and resources
- Mental and emotional training, designed to prepare and harden the mind for the realities of combat
- Technical training, designed to enhance bio-mechanical fighting skills
- Physical training, designed to enhance and maintain specific physical attributes required for combat
- Pressure testing, designed to safely test and enhance combat effectiveness under various conditions, while putting together tactical, mental, technical and physical skills and minimize the gap between the “gym performance” and real-world combat applications
Be Practical, Adaptable and Applicable Approach to Real World Situations
With that in mind we practice a pragmatic fighting system that is a cross-breed blend of various styles, which prove their effectiveness for real combat. Combat is unpredictable and can take place anywhere, anytime, at any range, with single or multiple opponents and with or without weapons involved. Therefore, if we are serious about surviving under such conditions, we must train for such situations.
Most martial arts styles specialize in some single aspect of combat. The strategy is to take the fight into their strong point, keep it there and to avoid fighting on unfamiliar terrain. Some aspects of real world combat include:
- Situational Awareness
- Combat-Specific Conditioning
- Ground Engagement, Mobility and Disengagement
- Obstacle Navigation
- Defensive Driving
- Ground Grappling
- Blade and Stick Fighting
- Improvised Weapons
- Secondary Party Protection
- Multiple Opponents
- Fighting in Low Light Conditions
- Fighting in Difficult Conditions (handicap, slippery, etc.)
- Emergency Medicine and First Aid
- Knowledge of Self Defense Laws and Specific Rules of Engagement
While it is certainly remains a solid go-to strategy to take initiative and fight at the place of your choice, on your terms and utilizing your strongest skills vs. your opponent’s or opponents’ weakest skills, the reality of combat shows, especially for civilians, that it does not always play out that way. Just like in mixed martial arts competition, in the realm of hand to hand combat, one needs to be able to negate his/her opponent’s strong points even when taken to the deep waters long enough to be able to execute his/her strongest tactics.
An effective and efficient fighter needs to be like water, which could exist in 4 different states:
- Hard and sharp, like ice
- Soft and adaptable, like liquid
- Weightless and elusive, like steam
- Hot and burning, like plasma
So we need to cross-train. The need to cross-train is evident even more when we take into account that we are the least likely to fight somebody for real from our actual martial arts school. No, it will be an opponent, or most likely, as the experience shows, multiple opponents with different training and potentially different movement dynamics and weapon platforms of choice.
So we need to expose ourselves to a variety of different fighting styles, training partners, weapon platforms, tactics and body types in order to keep our fighting system “alive” and to test it against a variety of opponents and conditions.
Reality-Based Systems vs. Combat Sports Systems Controversy
Acquaintance to different opponents and fighting styles means regular exposure to both “reality-based” martial arts systems and sport-driven, competition-based combat sports. Training in one modality does not exclude the other – they are tools in the training toolbox and, with the right approach, are mutually complementary to each other.
Reality-based systems, such as Systema, Izvor, Kali, Combat Sambo, Krav Maga, Kapap, Silat and various other cross-breed systems that focus on maximum realism of actual hand to hand combat (when taught correctly of course) are great for expanding the mind beyond the sport fighting mentality, as well as conditioning fighting reflexes and strategies necessary to survive and prevail in real world hand to hand combat encounters.
Combat sport systems on the other hand, such as Muay Thai, Boxing, Judo, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Catch, Sambo, Submission Grappling, Kudo, San Da, MMA, Sport Knife and Stick Fighting, Fencing and others, are tremendous for their ability to engage fully resisting opponents under various rules of engagement of the respective system. Some of these rules are very narrow and specific (Boxing, Judo), which stimulates the development of exceedingly solid and highly specialized skills within that domain. Some arts have fairly broad rules (Muay Thai, Kudo, San Da, MMA), which stimulates the ability to flow from one skill set into another.
However, a hand to hand combat practitioner needs to keep an open mind and remember why he/she practices Combat Sports in the first place: to use the experience of fully resisting opponent within the limited rules of engagement as ONE OF THE MANY TOOLS to help prepare for the realities of actual combat and to expose oneself to different body mechanics, tactics and body types out there. Failure to take it for what it is and over-reliance on combat sports mindset in real combat can get one killed.
My practical experience shows that both reality-based and combat sport approaches can reciprocally benefit each other in the quest to produce a well-trained and real-world combat-ready fighter. Having trained all over the world with some of the best hand to hand combat coaches out there concurs with that conclusion – most of them have extensive combat sports fighting experience and I believe it is that experience, combined of course with equally extensive combative training and experience, that makes them stand out from the other coaches and practitioners who are just one-dimensional.
Both approaches have lots to learn from each other. Reality-based systems out there for instance, need to better utilize timed drilling, specific physical and skill conditioning, and a variety of sparring drills (using various protective equipment).
In either case, if you think that your fighting art will somehow magically help you to defend against two or three armed thugs in a dark alley, but you cannot at least hold your own against one person of medium skill level under sport rules, on soft mats, with a time limit, water break, in a well-lit space and under a supervision of a coach – you are in for a very rude awakening, if you are going to wake up at all.
Simplify and Narrow Down the Appropriate Situational Responses by Utilizing a Basic Common Movement Platform
Mindless cross-training just confuses practitioner’s nervous system and introduces the problem of “paralysis by analysis” by presenting with too many responses to a given situation. Our reaction needs to be swift and efficient. One should not move in an entirely different manner when fighting with his bare hands, a knife, a stick or a carbine – we only have one lifetime to master those skills.
So there is a need for an Integrated Movement Platform that simplifies the choices we make in combat. Any weapon we chose to use then surely has its distinctive characteristics, yet it becomes just an extension of the body.
Training your combat skills under the umbrella of an integrated movement platform also means that a combat system that is truly effective under a variety of conditions and circumstances is based on select core cadre of universal principals that could be adapted to the situation, rather than individual techniques that only fit a narrow situation. Flexibility and ability to adapt and improvise are keys to survival.
That does not mean that individual techniques should not be drilled repeatedly and mastered until they become second nature. There should be balance between improvisational principal-based drills and specific technique-based drills. It is important to have a select core of fighting techniques that one can reliably produce under stress. However, they should be viewed as a part of a bigger picture and practiced as simply specific examples of fundamental principles.
Fortify the Mind and Spirit
Yet the most important weapons for a martial arts practitioner are his mind and spirit. Just like any weapon is just an extension of the body, the body is just an extension of the mind and spirit. The body will only go as far as the mind will allow it to go.
That means that a true martial artist must constantly work on his weaknesses, condition the mind and body and spar with more difficult opponents under progressively tougher circumstances and while seemingly being at a disadvantage. Special Forces selection and training are great examples to follow, among others.
Strengthen the body for a lifetime and preserve the health of a practitioner for the time when it really counts
Of course, training needs to be progressively scaled to an individual’s current level of combat ability, and gradually build up from there. It is important to not to condition beginners into the state of fear and pummel them into the ground. Spirit, mind and body need to be gradually toughened over time until they can take on serious challenges.
It is also important to maintain high level of training safety, while sustaining maximum levels of realism. We do not want to live our most important battles in the gym and be ill-prepared or severely injured when it really counts: defending yourself, your family or your country. Various protective and simulation equipment should be used, as well as carefully crafted sparring drills that preserve the health of a practitioner.
Most importantly, the attitude of the practitioners should be of that of a fighting tribe that seeks to maximize the combat effectiveness of each individual member and the team as a whole. Each permanently injured tribe member reduces the total effectiveness of the team and provides with one less qualified training partner to further enhance everyone’s combat skills.
Pressure test each other’s abilities to the furthest limit safely, but do not destroy. Respect your health and the health of your training partners and sharpen yourself for the battles that really count.
Build realistic attitude towards one’s fighting abilities
Another often overlooked aspect of combative training is the ability to realistically asses one’s ability to engage threats. There are too many overconfident shopping mall dojo warriors out there that study once a week some watered-down version of a combative system from an instructor who’s experience is limited to one certification weekend.
Your combative system will not fight for you, no matter which army of the world supposedly uses it to prepare its troops for close quarter combat. It will come down to YOUR awareness, YOUR bravery and determination, YOUR skills, YOUR conditioning and YOUR ability to use them under the given set of circumstances. If will be as good as you are on a given moment.
You will not be aware of the extend of your realistic abilities, unless you test it, with progressively varied resistance against your sparring partners on regular bases. You can only learn well by actually doing and getting your ass kicked by good training partners is much better than living in the bubble of false assumptions.
Realistic approach to one’s fighting abilities against realistic threats demands that we devote a considerable amount of our available training time to master various weapon platforms, such as improvised weapons, stick, knife and firearms with respect to local laws and regulations in regards to lawfully storing, transporting, carrying and utilizing them for self-defense.
To clarify, by realistic threats I mean determined attacks by urbane jungle predators, such as gang members, armed robbers and other professional criminals whose intent is to take your life, cause great bodily harm or violently deprive you and/or your loved ones from your property.
I DO NOT advocate being “trigger-happy” or pulling out a knife, which is a deadly weapon, on some silly “monkey dance”, as Rory Miller puts it, altercation with a drunken neighbor. No way. Simple awareness and avoidance skills should be plenty for that. You should have a solid judgment and a good understanding of self-defense laws in your state, otherwise you do not belong – this is not a game and should be taken very responsibly and seriously.
However, on the other hand, if for example you have a home invasion by three or four armed intruders with a criminal intend to deprive you and your family of your life, dignity and property it would be foolish to rely on your unarmed skills alone for effective self-protection.
Weapons are great force multipliers and equalizers, especially for women and elderly, as well as for outnumbered and overpowered men by no least degree. Learn how to use them and protect against them, learn how to turn regular objects around you into improvised weapons, study and respect your local laws and regulations – and you will greatly up your chances of surviving a violent encounter with professional criminal element of our society.
Continuously remove practitioner’s mind and body limitations
As equally as it is important to be aware of one’s realistic limitations versus realistic threats, it is also important for a practitioner to continuously widen his comfort zone and overcome current limitations of the mind and body. True martial arts practitioner constantly strives to get better and both areas of strengths and weaknesses.
Provide with a vehicle for continuous self-improvement
Martial arts practice could be many things for different people, but one thing is for sure – combat calls upon a multitude of spiritual, mental, emotional and physical characteristics, all combined in the present moment, in the state of flow. There is so much to learn, so much to master in order to consider oneself a competent and capable martial artist.
While it is entirely possible to become fairly proficient at some basic self-defense with minimal training, true martial arts ability demands a life-long practice. Within such practice lies a much greater benefit than the ability to protect yourself and your loved ones when necessary – we strengthen our spirit, mind and body, as well as acquire some wonderful experiences, memories and friends.
Every tool needs consistent and well-planned maintenance in order to stay sharp – humans are no exception. Martial arts provide us with means to improve ourselves daily, which positively affects not only our lives and everyone’s lives around us.