Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Truth About "Self-Defense" Workshops…

I have been training people in physical skills since I was 15 years old – at the time of this writing, that’s 25 years of teaching experience.  Some of the people whom I am privileged to teach are professionals who require physical skills as part of their profession – military and/or law enforcement personnel generally.  Others are physical skills/martial arts students who have a professional approach towards their own training.

This month, The Midwest Academy provided a 120 minute “Women’s Self-Defense Workshop” at a fundraising event; we wish to pass along some of the general lessons learned from that workshop. While conducting research into current “Women’s Self-Defense workshops”, we looked at many of the already existing training platforms and discovered they generally had the following aspects in common:
  • They advocate that a woman strike an assailant’s “eyes, throat, & groin”;
  • They advocate the use of elbows, knees, & head butting; and
  • They presume a single male attacker as the only assailant.
In order to validate the workshop training, many of these programs dress the mock assailant in a padded suit and basically allow him one attack after which time he remains stationary and the student uses him as a “punching bag”.  A significant number of these programs also have some "gimmick" that the course is based upon - for example, the 'high heeled shoe' as a weapon.

This is excellent marketing in that it allows people to leave with a sense that they have some solutions with which to defend themselves, but is that really the case?  From an anatomical perspective, while these are "soft targets", the “eyes, throat, & groin” are the most instinctively & reflexively guarded parts of the human anatomy.  In addition, in order to directly strike these targets, the defender places herself directly in front of the attacker - a position that the Academy refers to as “work-space to work-space alignment” – in this alignment, the defender has no advantages and the position is most favorable to the larger, stronger, & more aggressive person.  In addition, the defender’s eyes, throat, & groin are as equally vulnerable as the attacker’s.  Finally, as if that’s not enough, the strategy advocated by these programs requires the defender to be at a distance close enough to perform an elbow strike, knee strike, or head butt (which, if incorrectly performed, can cause the defender to lose consciousness).  And while those anatomical weapons are formidable by all accounts, even trained fighters do not stand and strike at that distance while in that position (work-space to work-space alignment).  The formulaic approach clearly has marketing advantages, however, it likewise lacks integrity with regard to the welfare of the student.   

The Truth…

Almost all of our attendees were likely surprised during the workshop introduction where we simply stated that they would not leave the workshop with any applicable skills.  This is not a reflection on our curriculum, teaching ability, nor any such factor – the statement is based on an understanding of how humans create utility with regard to physical skills – utility is the ability of the skill performer to effectively perform the skill in the environment and under the conditions for which the skill is designed.  Utility is the process of moving from a knowledge set – knowing what to do given a set of stimuli – to a skill set – doing what you know given a set of stimuli.  It is often described as the path from unconscious incompetence to unconscious competence - we have previously made the skill building analogy with how one learns to drive a car.  How long does that take? There are a number of factors some of which include: the existing skills of the learner, the complexity of the skill being learned, the methodology being used to teach the skill, the frequency in which the skill is practiced, & the intensity of the training. 

The two points, however, to always keep in mind when learning a physical skill are:

·         No physical skill can be internalized (unconscious competence) in 2 hours, 2 weeks, 2 months, or probably even 2 years; and
·         There is a direct relationship between practice and skill development – the more you practice (assuming correct practice), the better you will get.

Anyone that tells you otherwise is doing you a disservice.

It is not the Academy's position that there is truly a difference between “men’s self defense” and “women’s self defense”; there may be a case for beginning the training process at different points as, based on empirical data, men & women tend to be attacked for different reasons/purposes and thus are attacked differently.  Most attacks on women are initiated with some type of control as most women are attacked by attackers that wish to control them.  Most attacks on men are initiated with some type of strike or weapon since the objective is to remove their ability to resist the attack.  However, eventually, regardless of gender, a quality training program must address all categories of attacks.

Therefore during this workshop we focused on a principle based solution that achieved the following objectives:

  • Moved the attackers control further away from the attacker’s body core (thereby weakening him) and closer to the defender’s body core (thereby creating a relative leverage advantage in favor of the defender);
  • Forced the attacker to maintain the control with “limb strength” while allowing the defender to release the control with “core strength” (creating a relative strength advantage in favor of the defender);
  • Moved the defender into a “flank” position on the attacker making it more difficult for the attacker to continue attacking and easier for the defender to strike, control, or escape (creating both a relative position & speed advantage for the defender).

 We used a few variations of the same attack, but the above principles and movements are basic solutions to almost any control from any position.

A final thought on the 120 minute workshop was that by using a principle based approach, students were leveraging Hick’s Law to their advantage.  Hick’s Law states that the greater the number of options, the greater the reaction time needed to employ any of them.  Since students essentially learned one principle, their reactions will eventually be very efficient.  We say “eventually” since it still requires practice to internalize the mechanics of this principle.

The Midwest Academy's goal in providing workshops is to educate the public on the role of awareness in personal protection. With regard to physical skills, it is our objective to provide a realistic overview of what a usable skill set is as well as to provide the foundation to recognize what utility-oriented training looks like.  

For information on this or other programs offered by The Midwest Academy, please visit our website.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Pad/Focus Mitt Drill Challenge – "Tactical" Striking

In December 2012, I was one of a few expert guests on a radio talk show discussing “tactical training”.  The show’s host asked for a definition of “tactical training” (the show’s topic related to firearms training specifically and thus the answer provided was in terms of firearm’s mechanics and application - however the concept applies more generally to all types of armed and unarmed combat sciences); while the answer I provided of applying the basics which were mastered in a ‘flat’ environment (without all the dynamics of the environment of application) in the ‘application’ environment may not have understood by the show’s host, it was agreed upon my fellow guest “tactical firearm’s training” experts.  I found myself at a slight loss as to why the show's host, the president of a firearms training company himself, did not understand what, to me, was a simple response - however as I thought more about it, I began to realize that fundamentals practiced outside the "application environment" are conducive for repetition, but not for building problem solving skills.  I also realized that most training is repetition oriented, but not problem solving in nature - so even long standing experts may not have a good understanding of problem solving if all they have focused their training core on is repetitions. And ultimately "tactics" are about problem solving tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving problem sets.

For the past several years, the Midwest Academy has taken our TAB (Tactically Applied Basics) Module on the road to various training venues – the training gap that the program addresses is simple, but extremely relevant to the “application environment” and thus what makes it a “tactical” program.  That said, before we present you with our challenge to add to your training regimen, let us offer you a succinct look at the “why’s” involved:

"The Why's"

Most combatives (armed, unarmed, & even firearm-based) are taught in straight line relationships.  Some of the reasons for that are:
  •  It is easy to manage a group of students when everyone is lined up the same way; 
  •  It also allows for a safe training environment; and 
  •  It maximizes a training space.  

These straight line relationships are what we at the Midwest Academy define as “0% basics” – they are flat – there are no deviation dynamics such as lateral movement, elevation changes, changes in distance, etc.,  between the threat and the defender.  The practice of “0% basics” is useful for the development and refining of mechanics that are fundamental to whatever specific combative technique one is studying.  For example, in a fistic strike, the fundamentals likely should include the shift of the weight forward and down combined with the alignment of the hip, shoulder, elbow, and weapon surface to the target’s contact point.  For a firearm, fundamental practice may include establishing a natural point of aim, proper grip, proper sight alignment, and correct trigger press.  Both of these examples are the combat science equivalent of learning to drive in the store parking lot after the store has closed and everyone has gone home.  It is a needed building block that facilitates fundamental skill development, however until one takes the vehicle to the “application environment”, the skills needed for driving on a highway with merging and lane changing remains an elusive theory.

"0% Basics" or 'flat' fundamentals
The TAB module draws from the teaching perspectives of the MOUT (Military Operations on Urban Terrain) and SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) environments, both of which initially focus on understanding the geometric angles created by various doorways, room designs, building architecture, etc, and using that knowledge as a force multiplier in the action-reaction model (OODA Loop); in the case of the TAB Module, it is applied to the “tool kit” of the unarmed combatant (the base layer of the layered offense theory below).  

This approach is dovetailed from the layered offense training theory advocated by CSAT Founder and SOFD/D (“Delta Force”) MSG Paul Howe (ret) which I first learned as a young soldier and later refined under MSG Howe’s instruction; the layered offense training theory states that the system of fighting with a rifle, pistol, edged/impact weapon, or empty hand should be fairly uniform such that transitions in either direction are seamless, adjustments from force option to force option are minimal, and training for each force option is complimentary to the others.  Using this as the base development perspective for the presentation of the TAB Module allowed myself and the other Midwest Academy instructors to leverage our military and law enforcement special operations backgrounds not to “bring Special Ops to the training floor”, but rather to take the “training floor into the application environment”.  The rationale for developing the TAB Module is based on our collective experience which confirms that the action-reaction model, which integrates distance, angle, initiative, etc, works against the defender unless the defender learns how to maximize the geometry of the urban environment.

A"corner fed doorway" - the black ring that has been added shows the area that the waiting attacker can immediately control placing the defender at reactive disadvantage if he does not understand how to maximize geometric angles.

 This topic is both too broad and too deep to present in this type of a format, however, if you have read this far, I think you get the point of the “why’s”, so on to the “how’s”:

"The How's"

Being introduced to the geometry of the application environment removes some of the “neatness” associated traditional “0% basics” in the “flat” environment.  As combat athletes, we normally train these basics on a fixed position target (such as a heavy bag) or with a partner (such as with pad drills); in either case, we know we are performing the basic, so we tend to pre-align in a manner that puts us “center on” the target.  Once you have a solid understanding of your basics at this level (we suggest at least conscious competence), we encourage you to take the following challenge:

Instead of beginning “center on” your target, place the target where you would have moved to evade the basic you are working on (see above diagram).  In general, the targets would be outside the left and right planes of your shoulders.  From here you will find that many of you will get tuned into the skill set of smoothly shifting weight since you are required to initiate lateral movement to put yourself “center on” the target prior to executing your basic.  There are two basic methods of shifting and stepping that you will learn by doing these “5% adjustments”:
  • Method 1 – the target is on the outside of the direction of rotation of the lead leg (for example, defender is left foot lead and the target is to the outside of the defenders left shoulder) – the defender will need to un-weight the lead leg, move it laterally to the outside (and forward if distance requires) with the rear leg moving laterally to the inside; or
  • Method 2 – the target is on the inside of the direction of rotation of the lead leg (for example, defender is left foot forward and the target is to the outside of the defenders right shoulder) – the defender will need to un-weight the rear leg, move it laterally to the outside (and forward if distance requires) with the lead leg moving laterally to the inside. 

Writing is not always conducive to describing human motion, however, students at the Midwest Academy and other students that have been introduced to the TAB Module incorporate these types of “fundamental” evolutions to their practice with results that increase their agility, adaptability, and the ultimate utility of their skill sets.  If you train simply to "get in shape" with no regard for the application of combatives, the added lateral movement will give you a level of conditioning that few other training drills can provide.  Finally, the understanding you gain by doing these drills will also decrease training/application injuries and increase the sustainability of your training by reducing "over extension" and working "outside your work-space" inefficiencies. 

We invite you to add these drills to your practice and let us know what you think.  If you have any questions on how to incorporate this into your own training or wish to learn more about ours, please contact us at (630) 836-3600 or through our website.