Monday, February 27, 2012

Tactical Application, Not Concept Demonstration

Youtube Fighting
I've become more and more strict with myself in my training when it comes to this. The days of being impressed with a demonstration and then trying to imitate that spectacle are over. When watching a demonstration of a concept, it should be clear what the objective is. When watching combat sports, you see two people trying to win a fight as fast as possible, taking as little damage as possible. You can always see with at least one of the two fighters exactly what they're gameplan is and how they plan to win. They're not out there trying to show how well they can take a hit, they're there to finish. This is also the desired objective in almost any self defense context, with the exception of restraint obligations and third party protection. In its simplest form, self defense comes down to two universal tasks: reducing the risk of getting hurt and stopping the conflict from continuing. Watching someone dance around a swinging knife to make the point about movement or artificially run circles around a group of "attackers" looks great but doesn't teach anything. I like to call that "Youtube Fighting". People might even get results by trying to imitate this kind of stuff in class, but might be in for a nasty surprise when pressure testing or confronted by this scenario in real life. Maybe I sound bitter, but this is something that needs to be taken seriously. Get educated, not entertained.
When training to defend yourself in a specific scenario, apply the following action plan:

Survival Concept -> Strategy of Execution -> Tactics -> Experiment/Pressure Test -> Results Analysis 

  • Concept Stage
This is your first stage. Discuss a specific scenario that you would like to simulate and learn to defend yourself against. Pro fighters and athletes do this all the time. They practice for a specific team or person by creating a series of most-likely scenarios. Example: Defending against an armed attacker (knife) with empty hands.

  • Strategy 
In this stage, research and discuss effective methods of self defense to accomplish the desired outcome (the Concept). Compile any existing data that you can find on this and consider how to implement what you find into your strategy. Often you can find case studies and methods that professionals use and train in most. To keep with our example: We learn that risk is greatly reduced when the knife is isolated, as opposed to swinging wildly in the air. A risk-reducing strategy is to have the knife pinned against our body, their body or the ground, with two hands securely controlling the knife arm.

  • Tactics
Tactic development is broken down into the necessary skill-building drills to be efficient at executing the techniques we'll need to enforce our Strategy. Usually variations of hand-eye coordination drills. In the case of our knife attacker, we'll need to work on movement and evasion exercises to avoid stabs and slices. Also we'll need resistance when attempting to secure the arm with the knife. We need to be able to avoid attacks, close distance as safely as possible and isolate the attacker and knife. Lastly we'll need to train ways of finishing this conflict from the secured position, which might be something new to you. Research and drilling are necessary here.

  • Pressure Test
This is our experimental phase. Here, we will simulate the entire scenario and try to put to practice what we've been training with as much resistance as we can safely enforce. There should be some level of stress here in order to study how our concept is applied with adrenaline and fear. Protective gear is highly recommended here for both parties, in order to reduce risk of injury and overcome inhibitions for both people. Take an honest approach when reviewing your results. Regardless of success or failure, you now have priceless data on the realism of your chosen scenario. Honestly categorize everything into what worked, what didn't and what you think would after more training. Start the process over and apply the new information where applicable. Stay safe and good luck!

These are steps to organize your training and leave no room for mysticism. Keep your work honest, ego free and always seeking the truth. When watching a demonstration, viewers should be able to clearly see exactly what the defender is doing to protect themselves. This is the difference between impressing an audience or educating them. When the conflict is over, viewers should be thinking something along the lines of "oh I see what he did there. I'd like to try that myself it work for him." It might not be flashy, but it just might save your life. Happy training.

Jordan Bill
Fight or Die

Monday, February 20, 2012

Punching Through the Comfort Zone

No matter much or how hard you train, it's always possible to fall into a comfort zone. Of course, this must be avoided at all costs. Working at the same pace with the same people all the time can make even something like sparring a mundane routine. Pressure should be periodically introduced into your training in order to make sure that you're aware of what is working well for you and what needs more work. I've been guilty of this myself, so I've put together some changes you can make once in a while to switch things up. Stress (or eustress, instead of distress. Will be discussing that at length in a future project) should be introduced with pressure testing in order to train proper application. Everyone is comfortable at different things, but these are adjustments that work best for me. Hope at least one of these helps you in your training as well.

"Prepare for the worst, hope for the best."
Always work with someone better than you. This should be a standard for you. Working with someone that has more experience will automatically make you work harder and draw out everything in your arsenal. This will make it abundantly clear what techniques and principles are well ingrained and what needs work. Of course there are ways to challenge yourself against someone you know you can beat also. When working with someone less experienced, give yourself limitations in order to work on technique and timing. When working with someone you know is more advanced, your heart-rate might peak earlier than you're used, forcing you to deal with that. Also, with more experience, there's a good chance that they'll be pushing the pace as well, again forcing you to adapt. It's good for your development to have someone else take control once in a while (in practice only, of course). If you find that you're having a hard time stepping out of your comfort zone, especially in sparring, a better, stronger and faster opponent will do that for you. What's the worst that could happen? Nothing that you haven't had done to you before in your training, probably. Deal with it. You'll be happy you did.

Say it Out Loud
Without accountability for our goals, we create a circumstance where it's ok to fail. Commit to your goals by verbalizing them. If there is something you want to accomplish in your training (or life, for that matter), tell a friend or training partner what that goal is. It's really not even important if they follow up or even care, to be honest. It forced you to say what you want out loud, making you that much more committed to those results, even if it's just to yourself. This will also provide more reflection if you fail, as opposed to the temptation to just avoid that part of your training. You'll be more likely to solve what went wrong and will want to try again as soon as possible. For an even harder challenge, tell the person you're working against what you would like to try doing and you'll automatically have them resisting fully. Give it time and you'll eventually succeed. Determination and patience will yield the best rewards and you'll have accomplished a task under the hardest possible circumstances, making all future attempts much less stressful.

Draw Attention
This one always works for me. Having an audience or someone filming always gives me a little extra adrenaline, but often my best results. I've worked on instructional videos, video game stunt work, competitions and teaching classes and seminars and having a group of people paying that much attention to me still makes me nervous. This is great for training. Any scenario that forces you to deal with an adrenaline spike is a great simulation to how you'd feel in a crisis. The idea is to create the physiological conditions of a violent conflict, without the risk of injury (minimal risk of injury, at least). An extra bonus of having a friend or group watch you work is the feedback. Getting a third party source of information is terrific for what adjustments you should make in your training. The same goes for your sparring partners. They know what you did well and what you didn't, take advice from them and not your ego.

Analyze Yourself
I've always recommended that you film yourself training and I still do. This doesn't have to be done often, but every few months take the time to watch yourself work. You'd be surprised, as I often am, by what mistakes you make and when. You'll notice first what bad habits you have that stop you from doing certain things, but keep watching until you can spot the little things. By this I mean the small mannerisms that if you would have noticed from an opponent you could use to defeat them. Often, even when successfully execute a technique, we make a dozen mistakes along the way. Sometimes it's just luck that got us through and sometimes it's just inexperience on your opponent's part. Either way, if you knew you were doing that you'd stop right away. Sometimes taking a step outside your body and watching is the only way to notice these things. I also recommend only watching your footage after some meditation. Watch with a clear mind and a checked ego. You're not doing this to praise yourself, so it's fine to only look for the mistakes. It's ok to be frustrated when you spot them too; that's the whole point. As long as everytime you watch footage you're a new fighter, you're making progress. New mannerisms, new techniques and new mistakes are signs of evolution. If your ego can take it, the footage will keep you honest.

An Adrenaline Experiment
Recently, my friend Ben and I decided to conduct an experiment to see how it affected our performance. We've sparred each other countless times, under all kinds of different rules. Often simulating various combat sports rules in order to constantly change the context. This time, we decided to draw some attention to ourselves. Essentially, we combined all of the methods mentioned above. It started with setting a future date for our sparring "match" to take place, followed by two weeks of openly challenging each other and talking some smack. This got a lot of our friends' attention and, even though we were all taking it lightly, everyone started to anticipate a fight. This means we both committed to this and were now accountable. We also agreed to film the whole thing, in order to see how different we moved and fought. When the day finally came, I was a little more excited and my heart-rate peaked much earlier than usual. It was a great change and this small simulation took me a little out of my comfort zone, which lead to a harder-than-usual level of intensity in our hits. While icing my many bruises later, the footage showed me a normal amount of mistakes for what I'm used to, but they were completely different from last time I had watched myself. Overall, I'd consider the whole experiment a success. It was fun, safe and gave me results. Now I have a billion new things to work on. That's honest training.

Jordan Bill
Fight or Die

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Everyone's Bodyguard

Most of the time, when students are asked why they train in the fighting arts or self-defense, they often list loved ones as their main reason for training. The people we are most likely to want to protect will be the people we love, ourselves only coming in second place at best. Personally, the well-being of my one-eyed pug Magoo comes before my own safety. However, a valuable lesson I learned when training in first aid, we are useless to our friends and family if we’re dead or incapacitated. That’s the sad truth. So, when it comes to personal protection, there are some key principles that we need to remember to keep ourselves and our loved ones out of harm’s way. Training and pressure testing are required in order to be efficient, but the following are some observations and notes I’ve made when working in the field over the years.

Talk Smart, not Fast
One aspect of training in security that I was never comfortable with was role-playing to practice verbal de-escalation. I’m glad I awkwardly toughed it out, because this is, hands down, the single most important thing that I’ve learned. Being able to stay calm and speak clearly has saved my ass more than anything else when I was bodyguarding. The first thing I had to get used to was to speak slow and clear. With an accelerated heart-rate, it’s hard to fight the temptation to talk fast, but this often just aggravates the aggressor, especially if they can’t follow what you’re saying. Blade the body slightly and non-telegraphically so that you’re not standing chest-to-chest with them. This can be interpreted as a challenge and turning away slightly keeps your valuable targets a little more protected from them. Don’t agree with them, but empathize always. Start most of your sentences with something like “I understand how that can upset you, but…” Avoid mentioning any kind of consequences, no matter what the context. Saying something like “let us go and I won’t call the cops” might just put an outcome into their head that they hadn’t considered, which could lead to desperate decisions. If you have reason to believe that the aggressor is intoxicated, casually move around while you talk (a large circle if possible). If at any point you think this is making them more aggressive, stop right away, but when they’re really under some kind of influence they’ll have a hard time keeping track of what’s happening and often pacify. Personally, I’ve had good results from this when working in bars.
If you’re with a loved one, anything other than trying to talk down a situation is endangering the person you’re with. No matter how aggressive you are or comfortable with conflict, others might not be and they are at risk also. Keep the attention on you at all times and keep any movements in the context of conversation.

Communicate Clearly
So we’ve considered the idea of talking ourselves out of a potential situation for the sake of someone we’re with, but what happens if we have to engage? In my experience, when a fight breaks out, the innocent people usually freeze up. This, of course, keeps them at risk. Always remember to speak loud and clear. Keep instructions simple and confined to a single sentence. Yell it as loud as you can, regardless of how close or far they are. The volume will instantly add urgency and just keep repeating it until they are away and safe. Avoid vague orders like “go get help!”, instead something specific and clear like “run outside now!”. Be prepared to repeat this often, because sometimes it takes a lot for someone to fight through the paralyzing fear of being in a conflict. Your priority is staying in between the aggressor and your loved one so that they can get to safety and, if you’re really lucky, get some help!

Do Not Over-Commit
Defending yourself and sport fighting are not the same thing, so hopefully you’ve considered this in your training. Don’t over-engage the aggressor. Grappling and getting tunnel-vision might hinder you or, worse, the person you’re trying to protect. If you’re not paying attention to them or rolling around on the floor in a wrestling match you won’t notice if a second attacker gets involved. You could be pinned down and helpless as a second person you hadn’t noticed suddenly started chasing your friend or loved one as they try to run for help. Draw a line in the sand, so to speak. Establish a boundary and if the aggressor stops pushing past that, you should too. Keep them at bay by standing your ground, but don’t take the bait if they’re trying to lure you in. Restraint tactics are crucial in this kind of scenario, but that takes a lot of training and testing. Keep your head on a swivel.
In my experience, both in training and in teaching, the mind is more focused when there’s something external to worry about. Movements are smoother and technique becomes more crisp because we’re more focused on what we’re protecting, not what we should do next. In application, however, there are unexpected emotions that get involved. I mention this here because the first few times this happened to me it caught me so off guard that I almost made the whole situation worse. There is no training that can really prepare you for the absolute fear and anger that comes with someone trying to hurt a loved one, so at least consider meditating on this. Remember that you’re probably training for the people you love as much as for you, so do whatever you can to keep any conflict from happening. They’re your priority.

Have a Happy Valentine’s Day and stay safe!!

Jordan Bill
Fight or Die

This article is also dedicated to the memory of Bad News Brown, a musician and a legend. He took a chance on me by hiring me for one of my first jobs in personal protection. I learned a lot working with him and the world lost a great man. Rest in Peace.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Catch and Release

One of the many life lessons I've learned over the years as a pleasant side-effect of training in martial arts is the concept of  "catch and release". Originally, I used this when sparring with people to improve my timing. I would seek holds and openings to hit, and then not take them. Training for timing over speed or strength. Great learning tool. I then started to notice this concept in other forms. MMA fighters losing a lock and desperately chasing it to the point of opening themselves up for hits or a boxer trying too hard to force an opening for a big haymaker. It usually doesn't end well for these guys. Take the chance when it's there and pass on it if you missed it. When I started to follow the legends in the world of CACC (Catch-As-Catch-Can) wrestling, I noticed this was never an issue here. These guys were constantly picking off limbs and the second the other would start to counter, they'd just let go and move on to the next pick. It was like watching chess. Everyone seemed so sure that the next opportunity would and that eventually there will be no more counters. Confident. This would later become a life-concept that I would spend many hours meditating on (and still do).

In Training
Great learning tool for training. Strength and speed are great, but when we're tired, injured or simply older, these attributes are the first to go. Timing only goes away when you stop practicing it. So playing a little catch and release game when you're sparring goes a long way when you're tested under hard pressure. It's like hunting without chasing. Find that window of opportunity and let it shut on you. There will be another one if you just stay a little calm and patient. This is particularly great if you're working with someone who is new in your dojo or that you know can't challenge you as much as you'd like. I practice this way all the time (especially with more dangerous locks and hits) and I can feel the difference when I'm fighting.

In Sport
I'm sure any fight fan can think of a fight where they saw someone lose a hold and couldn't stop chasing it. It probably cost them the fight (and some brain cells). So, for example, a fighter attempts an armbar, almost has it and at the last second the other fighter slips free. The first fighter refuses to let go of the wrist and keeps forcing, despite the fact that everyone can see that the opportunity is gone. He then spends all of his energy and attention on this and the other fighter knocks him out with his free hand. I've seen this play out (or some kind of variation) many times. Failure to release something that is lost tells us two things about this fighter: they aren't confident that they can "catch" them again and that they've lost their focus. Stay present. When the moment passes, move with it. The best fighters in the world constantly let one chance after another come and go, eventually landing the one that works. Think of any fight you've seen that "should have been over right there" several times before it ended.

In Fighting
Now here, by "fighting", I actually just mean anything that isn't training or a combat sport. This whole "catch and release" attitude is important in any self defense or street fighting scenario as well. I remember seeing a fight break out in a bar, where one guy got hit really hard and was obviously half-unconscious right away. He fell to the ground and, like most primates in a confused panic, he grabbed his attackers leg with both hands. He tried to pull him down too, but the attacker stood strong and clearly wasn't going anywhere. Other people jumped in and this poor guy was getting hit from all over the place, but he never let go of the leg (brain clearly regressed to a single-goal mode...tunnel vision). He could have protected himself or even maybe get back to his feet if he just released. Fear made him hang on. No matter how bad it got, deep down inside he must have thought that it would just get worse if he let go. This kind of narrow vision prevented him from getting back on his feet or even seeing the other attackers join in. In real combat, you need your head on a swivel because anything can and will happen. Stay sharp.
(Side note: the guy ended up with a zillion minor injuries, but nothing life threatening)

Catch and Release Lifestyle
As with many things I've learned on the mats, this is really becoming a way of life (no, not when it comes to dating). I used to go through life chasing goals blindly, convinced that I just had this or that. As I started to incorporate this concept in training, I noticed more and more opportunities to apply this to my life. I'd be offered a job that I always thought I wanted and it would occur to me that it would just result in more stress and hours for pretty much the same pay. A woman I always had a crush on agreed to go on a date and I realized that we didn't share any of the same values or interests. People will sometimes think you're crazy, but trust your gut and let things pass you by sometimes. Just because something becomes available, doesn't mean it's for you. Pursue a lifestyle you love, around the people you love and let the rest come to you. Trust me, the things that matter will.

Jordan Bill
Fight or Die