Almost every martial arts style advertises and promotes their school using the term self defence, but is what teach applicable on the street? Martial arts techniques will work in a specific time & place; the problem is that the time and place is quite often just movies! So how do you determine what’s useful & what isn’t? One way is scenario training.
Your typical scenario training looks like a porn flick, it starts with some terrible dialogue and acting that is often skipped over, followed by a random segue into everybody’s favourite part, the physical act, that quite often involves several people. But seriously, Self Defence / Martial arts like any physical pursuit should be trained in the same manner as we do sport. The training needs to simulate the event that you are training for as closely as possible. Let me restate that, as closely as possible. You are essentially engaging in role-playing or simulation training of a potentially violent situation. So what advice would I give to anyone wishing to delve into the world of scenario training? Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned over the years:
Rule #1 Safety First
Just like fight club this rule needs to appear twice because it’s that important. Pad the person &/or pad the environment to ensure the safety of participants. Scenario training often involves props or taking the training from a safe, sterile gym and into a variety of unpredictable locations. At Krav West we often train in buses, stairs, bathrooms, clubs, skate bowls and many other volatile locations. These locations do not have the luxury of padded walls & floors like most gyms therefore the risk of injury is increased. We accommodate for this by conducting a risk assessment and once potential hazards are identified we look at means of eliminating or reducing them. This is done as stated before by padding the participants or the environment and we also employ ‘spotters’ Just like lifting in the gym we have a spotter to support another person during a particular exercise that may go astray, we have them in particular scenarios such as on the stairs standing behind participants to catch them should they fall. We also stress the importance appropriate protective equipment and have a number of substitute soft props that we use in place of tables etc. We have strict rules about taking care of training partners & a level of etiquette we adhere to in regards to how we attack each other.
Check your ego at the door
This is vital to ensure rule #1, the integrity of the drills & the cohesiveness of the group. Everyone needs to understand that this is different to a fight; this is a learning exercise not mortal combat! I manage to take the ego out by explaining to all participants that this is not you versus them. This is a particular situation that you hopefully do not find yourself in, it’s not a competition, it’s about problem solving. Both the assailant and the victim are playing roles and both are disadvantaged to some degree. It’s similar to MMA where during a sparring session one fighters instructions are to wrestle & the other one to strike, maybe it’s not your forte, maybe it’s not what you would do, but for the sake of the drill and skill development it’s necessary. Each person needs to accept that in certain scenarios they are crash test dummies and are there for others to build their skills. These roles are swapped so everyone has an opportunity to experience both sides of the drill. The other area where ego needs to take a back seat is it is not a time you have a captive audience to try out your new comedy routine or puns. This often changes the mood and detracts from the drill same with using it as an excuse to try and hurt people. I’m fortunate in that I have a great group who get along and trust each other which enables us to take training to a whole new level!
Have Clear Objectives & Roles
Everyone needs to be on the same page or it can turn pear shaped real quick. Everyone needs to know their role to make it work & they need to ‘stick to the script’ as I am often heard saying! We don’t actually write out scripts or have it storyboarded however we each have a role that is essential for success, if someone starts ad libbing or going improv it often doesn’t achieve the desired result. The one person who can be left in the dark is the ‘victim’ or the person who the scenario is for. We refer to this as an open scenario. An open scenario means that they do not know what they are getting into, the only instructions given is to solve the problem. It’s a little bit like that old TV show ‘Thank God You’re Here’ The participant starts outside the room while the team create the set, then walk into it and take care of business on the fly. In a closed scenario, everyone has a solid idea of how it’s all going to go down. I quite often show a CCTV video of an attack and we basically re-enact it trying a few different methods of solving the problem. This is the means we prefer to use on less experienced students. This allows for the student to plan a response, which detracts from the ‘ambush’ style of training that characterises reality-based training, yet is often necessary for skill development and progression.
There needs to be a clear end point also, we use a whistle to signal to stop, to distinguish from people yelling out ‘stop’ as this would likely be background noise in a real encounter. People often get lost in the moment and cannot hear commands particularly with certain headgear on, yet the sound of the whistle manages to get through. This also allows for more scenarios within scenarios such as a third party getting involved once the original one is resolved.
Pre-& Post incident is essential
Just as time is taken developing the physical component, careful consideration must be made for the pre & post incident. Violent encounters are usually decided in the pre-fight or frill necking stage as we refer to it. The person who lands the initial significant attack here usually triumphs. Therefore you’re tactics and strategies in this phase must be sound. People get beaten in fights before they even realise they were in one. This stage needs to be characterised by some aggressive dialogue and posturing to help develop the recognition of pre contact cues as well as working on your verbal de-escalation skills, positioning etc. You must also keep it street, when you attack don’t drop into a horse stance or touch gloves and come out fighting, keep it in context.
The Post incident needs careful consideration also. How many times have we seen one fight ending only for the individual to get cleaned up by a friend that’s just out of view? Good practice should be ingrained into the training to make them habit such as scanning 360 degrees after the threat is neutralised.
Remember to consider the consequences of your chosen response in each scenario. Would it be considered reasonable and necessary in the eyes of the law? Familiarise yourself with the your local laws and act accordingly within the scenario. I know as an instructor I would feel a great sense of guilt if one of my students wound up in gaol for excessive use of force, just as I would if they were harmed if I taught ineffective techniques. The workplace is another consideration. Would your actions cost you your job if you were at work? If a female is in a scenario where they could be sexually assaulted then it is quite reasonable to think they could go knuckle deep in the eye sockets of the attacker, if they were working as a nurse and harassed by a patient is there a less than lethal option that is protocol? We try to have a solution or way out that is non violent in every scenario, that is by using correct verbal de-escalation and/or conflict resolution skills or even fleeing (if you’re a fast runner). Remember context is key and also everyone has the right to defend themselves but don’t overdo it!
Engage the mind as well as the body
Reality based training differs from other classifications of martial arts as we try and simulate biological processes that occur in a confrontation. The body’s natural response to perceived danger where hormones like adrenalin and cortisol are released, include; increasing respiration and heart rates, the sense of nervousness and fatigue and loss of certain cognitive function. This is quite difficult to simulate, particularly with experienced students. New students engaging in this type of training may generally feel this before each class. To immerse their minds sometimes we need to engage in visualisation techniques or mental rehearsal to get the individual in the right frame of mind prior to the scenario. Visualisation is imagining a situation with a perfect outcome, in great detail and engaging as many senses as possible. The practitioner can actually experience skill enhancement of both physical and psychological reactions parallel with physical practice. This can be conducted almost anywhere and is relevant both in your own time and prior to entering a scenario to elicit an adrenal type response. Other ways we can achieve a similar reaction is through pre-exhaustion techniques. That is making the practitioner undergo some very intense anaerobic activity prior to the scenario, to increase both heart and respiration rates as well as that feeling of fatigue. Our favourite pre exhaustion tool is our air assault bike. Some trainers make participants spin around until they are dizzy to replicate being confused and stunned by a shot.
Extension / Diversification
There are many ways to make this relevant to differing levels of students. You can alter the speed, environment, contact & difficulty of the scenario. With advanced students I like to throw in a curveball, adding more attackers, a weapon or get them to start in less than optimal positions or left of field attacks. We can up the intensity and also the effect of their techniques on the attacker ie the initial response didn’t work. Like any training repetition is essential.
Rinse & Repeat
Once finished it’s a good idea to regroup and reflect on the scenario. Provide constructive feedback ie look at what went well and what didn’t. We often film our scenarios and review them shortly after. Once we identify methods of improving performance we redo the process again and again until we are satisfied with the outcome.and the reactions are becoming autonomous.
The options are endless it is only limited by your imagination; you can take a single skill and train it under a multitude of circumstances by altering a single variable. So before you start head to your local drama school to get your method acting on point, grab yourself a Spartan suit and keep it real!
I’m not one for telling my ‘war stories’ as I don’t want to look like these guys who make things up to enhance their reputation, besides how do you know if they are true? I’ve been to seminars where the stories grew from year to year and were adapted to suit the topic being discussed and/or the audience! Shouldn’t the material you present speak for itself? This article is called reality check not tall tales! Realistically self defence is about decision making and avoidance & if you are good at that you don’t have many stories. I find it interesting that the big tough guys have the most stories when in actuality I would think they would be a ‘hard target’ that people are too scared to mess with? The exceptions to this rule is being in the wrong place at the wrong time or maybe you are put in that position by your occupation or perhaps live in a place with him crime rates. My excuse is work put me in a few predicaments, I often spent time in areas of high crime & I was a dickhead with an ego! Many of my stories including this one I would not consider self defence because by definition self defence is when you are devoid of choice. That is if you choose to be there it’s a street fight, not self defence. Self Defence is when that choice is taken away from you, someone has decided you are the object of their unwanted attention. So the story I chose isn’t that sexy, it wont have you on the edge of your seat or thinking I’m Jason Borne however it has a few good takeaways and teaching points to consider.
Long story short I became separated from my ride home from the city late one night. My mate who had the car drove to a different club & I had to walk a few kilometres to meet up with him. At this stage I wasn’t happy with him. It was very late, I was tired, hungry, a little intoxicated and now I had to walk for about 30 minutes and each step I took I became angrier and angrier cursing his name. As I was walking I took a shortcut through a few laneways and back streets, I didn’t care. I would’ve walked through a wall that particular night.
As I walked along I saw someone approaching in the distance. I could tell he was trouble perhaps the trademark identity concealing hoody and constant looking around gave it away but like many in such a circumstance I was in denial it was happening or more accurately I just didn’t care. I needed to blow off some steam. The twitchy guy came right up to me and asked for a light, to which I snarled ‘don’t smoke and neither should you’ By the looks of him he didn’t care too much for his health as he looked a little junkyish. He didn’t look too pleased with my response and as he motioned to put his smoke back in his pocket he pulled out a blade. Still looking twitchy and nervous and with his head on a swivel like he was watching tennis (or just completed a dodgy krav maga demo ha!) still looking everywhere he asked for my wallet, phone etc. I reached for my wallet and as I did this he turned his head once again to check that no one was around and at this stage without any thinking or preparation boom I threw a straight right that connected flush on the side of his head. It was as if I was on auto-pilot flooring him instantly, the knife dropped to the ground. I looked at him, he was breathing & seemed ok, and I hurled a few insults and tried to encourage him to change his life decisions with some choice words. I picked up the knife and threw it down the drain and left. Not the coolest story I could’ve told (I didn’t embellish it that much!) but a great story for teaching.
So what did I learn from that story & how does it affect my teaching? Something that’s very important is that the sample size (one event) isn’t enough to make any assumptions over and not enough to build a system around. Too many people say I used this move and it worked for me. It worked once and there were probably many things that would’ve worked at the time. Self Defence is unpredictable what works for scenario A may not work for scenario B due to a slight variation. A lot could’ve gone wrong in this example but the stars aligned that night so I was fortunate.
You see I’m not always such a cool customer in the face of danger, in fact catch me at another time & the result probably would’ve been very different. Had I perhaps had an illness or an injury or even had been in a great mood or the opposite really upset the result probably would have been very different. My anger over rid my fear. I was too angry to feel scared, my fight, flight or freeze response was fight on this occasion and that’s was predetermined by the events preceding this scenario. My anger caused me to make a number of mistakes that given night. Some questioned that should be addressed:
The list could go on and on.
So what did I learn from this?
#1Simplicity is key, I have a saying ‘a big right hand solves a lot of problems’ & by that I mean many self defence situations can be solved by the ability to hit hard. Whilst many people try to learn complex manoeuvres that probably wont work at match speed you would be better off learning to hit harder! I knew if I landed flush it would be lights out on this guy. I had thrown that punch more times than I care to count. I threw it on bags, pads and people in sparring so I had confidence in that particular tool. As Bruce Lee said “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who had practiced one kick 10,000 times.”
#2 Selected Sport fighting works!! When it comes to striking (I was a kickboxer at the time) you learn timing, footwork, placement & all of those things that enable you to land a strike as well as how to take a shot. The whole sport fighting doesn’t help self defence is a myth; you just need to know how to adapt and apply it. Punching people on a regular basis will make your self defence better than punching the air or pads, fact.
#3 I spent my fight career as a southpaw after being naturally orthodox. I switched as I was a JKD guy 30 odd years ago. Thousands of hours went out the window and I jumped into an orthodox stance! Crazy – where’s the muscle memory everyone speaks of? So quite often you’re going to do what you’re going to do in spite of the hours you put in, particularly under duress. Lucky I’m ambidextrous!
#4 your state of mind changes moment to moment, another place and time a different outcome may have arisen as mentioned earlier. Some days if I stub my toe I end up in the foetal position! What if it was one of those days?#5 This incident made me question contemporary unarmed knife defence. Most RBSD schools categorise their knife training into two categories, static and dynamic. This particular scenario, a few other experiences and watching countless hours of CCTV footage made me work on a third that I refer to as dynamic threats. That is the knife isn’t placed in a static position on your body nor is it on its path attempting to cut you however it is used to threaten whilst in motion. That is the assailant may be waving it around as if it is an extension of their arm whilst gesturing. It is essential to train all three however this is the one often overlooked. It, like the others, requires split second decision-making and a mistake could be fatal. Like general hand-to-hand combat, knife defence is not a one size fits all exercise. The strategy used needs to be adapted to the users ability as well as the assailants. Obviously you don’t have time to do a background check on the assailant to determine your course of action, however it is more to do with their physical attributes. In my example above he didn’t look like he could take a hit, had he been bigger & more physically imposing my strategy may have changed. There are three schools of thought when defending a knife when fleeing is not an option: 1) attack the person 2) Secure the knife wielding limb and 3) Move away from the weapon i.e. flanking. There are also examples where two of these are combined but from my experience fixation on the blade occurs so doing two things at once wouldn’t happen and if it did you would neglect one and focus on the other. Deciding between these options is where the split second decision that needs to be made. All are right & all are wrong, the circumstance dictates the response. It is too difficult to say you should always do this one or that one & quite often in training you switch between all three. My advice is to become adept at all three and drill them at match speed i.e. real time. You will soon see what works and what doesn’t & if it works in training that means it may work in real life; if it only works sometimes in training then it will rarely work when you need it
#6 Stay in shape. An athlete with better attributes such as speed, power, balance, reaction time, coordination etc will do far better than the couch potato technique master. Same with running away, it’s pretty easy to say run away if someone pulls a knife on you, but can you run? Do you have the speed, endurance and/or cardio? If the answer is no then I wouldn’t advise it. Adrenaline improves you physically however it won’t turn Kyle Sandilands into Usain Bolt!
Like I said earlier, self defence is about decision making, make the right decisions then your skill set or lack thereof doesn’t matter. True self defence is not being there when it goes down! Be smart, Be Safe.