Category Archive: Techniques

Cool Moves

Cool Moves

Cool Moves

Recently I was working out at a gym, hitting a heavy bag. A bit into my workout another guy started hitting the heavy bag next to me. He was obviously a very skilled boxer, and his technique was awesome. Basic boxing is the first thing I teach in the MMA Base, to get practitioners accustomed to distance, position, timing, throwing punches, getting punched at, and so on. But I’m no expert boxer. So this guy next to me was moving and hitting the bag in a way that I’m not able to. He had very cool moves.

We both happened to take a break at the same time, and he complimented me on what I was doing. There was a boxing ring next to us, and I told him, “Well, I wouldn’t want to get in the ring with you!” He replied, “I wouldn’t want to get in the ring with you!” We talked a little more, and figured the best thing for both of us would be to get in the ring for a little sparring, and to share our knowledge. I wanted to get better at what he was doing, and he wanted to get better at what I was doing.

In the first round we limited our light sparring to boxing only. I felt like a 6 year old sparring with an adult competitive boxer. He was able to evade, parry, or cover every punch I threw, and to counter my attacks with awesome counterpunching skill. He gave me some pointers, and showed me the mechanics of some of his footwork and evasive movement.

Then it was time for the second round, where we could add kicks, knees, elbows, and clinch. In this round he felt like the 6 year old. His boxing skills seemed to instantly disappear. In the first round, I couldn’t touch him. In the second round, he couldn’t touch me, and I could hit him at will.

I showed him how he could easily add a few kicks to his toolbox, how he could use knees and elbows in the clinch, how he could defend against kicks and clinch entries, and so on. With his skill in footwork and movement, I figured it would be easy for him to quickly apply that material. And I’m sure he figured it would be easy for me to apply his footwork and evasive movement. Of course, it wasn’t easy for either of us.

When he tried to add kicking and kicking defense, he was too busy thinking to react in real time. And when I tried to add his evasive movements and certain covers, I was too slow to make them work. I went home thinking I had some really cool moves to train and work on.

The next time I met my training partner for practice, we started drilling these new boxing moves. After drilling them for more than an hour, it was time to try them in light sparring. A couple of the techniques worked well, but the one that I thought was the coolest, an evasive technique that combined footwork, body/head movement, and switching leads, didn’t work at all for us. We were too slow, and hadn’t trained it enough. Additionally, compared to our standard high percentage material, even the new techniques that worked didn’t work as well as what we normally used.

High Percentage Techniques

If we wanted to become boxers, then it would make sense to continue training these techniques. But if we prefer to train a mix of techniques that are as efficient and effective as possible for self defense, then it probably doesn’t. Could these new techniques work in self defense? Definitely. But are there higher percentage techniques/movements? I think so.

If you’re training toward a goal (a boxing fight, a karate kata competition, self defense proficiency, etc.), the techniques you should train most are the techniques that have the highest percent chance of achieving your goal. There is an important difference between what is possible and what is probable. Many moves from other systems might look and feel cool to do, but unless your goal is to look cool, your time would be better spent on your high percentage moves.

The difficulty here, especially for a beginner, is knowing which techniques are high percentage and which are not. If my partner and I trained this evasive movement more, I’m sure we’d be able to make it work. Looking at a positive result though, understanding how it would work and where it would put a practitioner if it did work, I think there are better options in most self defense situations. There are probably exceptions. But with limited training time I lean towards focusing most on techniques and training methods that we know are high percentage for self defense. What techniques are those? My website and books are full of them.

With all the training and teaching I’ve done in functional self defense, I still found myself seeing cool moves and temporarily switching my focus to them. There’s nothing wrong with trying something new. If we didn’t we wouldn’t learn anything. But we need to know when to continue and when to switch course, otherwise we may get stuck going down a path that isn’t ideal for us.

How to Learn 10x Faster

Optimize Your Training

Optimize Your Training

I recently started taking lessons with another excellent oud/music teacher, and the exercises he has been having me do in our lessons have reminded me yet again how important teaching and learning with an optimal curriculum is.  The difference in the quality and speed at which you can learn with optimal practice is incredible.  I recently played for a friend of mine who has played the oud since he was a kid, and he remarked that in the last three months I’ve made seven years of progress.  That’s probably an exaggeration, but the point is solid.  The same goes for martial arts/self defense, or anything else you may be learning.

Unfortunately, in my experience most teaching is far from ideal, and most students really don’t know how to practice to get the best results.  Even when you do know how to practice optimally, the natural temptation is to do what seems easier or what you feel you may enjoy more, and it’s easy to get off course.  Two years ago I wrote a post titled 5 Tricks to Learn Better and Faster.  Two of the most important tips in that post were to master one small thing at a time and to practice just beyond your ability rather than attempting to go too far beyond it.  Even though I wrote that post myself, in my music practice I’ve still tended to practice playing entire compositions rather than breaking them into small/difficult parts in order to improve, and I’ve often practiced material that was far beyond my ability.  I got very little benefit from such practice, and a good bit of frustration.  And this is despite my first teacher telling me to do otherwise!

I see the same thing in martial arts practice all the time.  For example, at the last school I went to I watched as an instructor had students practice a combination of techniques that nearly everyone was failing to execute.  Why?  Because most of the people in the class weren’t able to do each of the individual techniques in the combination well enough.  They couldn’t possibly remember the combination, because they were too busy failing to do the first technique in the combination correctly.  But rather than stopping and working on each technique one at a time, the instructor just watched as the students made sloppy attempts, and then he moved on to the next combination they were unable to do!  This kind of practice is not only useless, but counterproductive.  But it’s common everywhere…

My wife and I have both taken foreign language lessons.  Recently my wife was complaining that her teacher has her read whole pages out loud, where she doesn’t know a substantial number of words.  This is how her textbook is arranged.  And I had exactly the same experience in my first foreign language classes.  Our teachers simply followed the text books without thinking about how much sense the curriculum made.  It would have made far more sense to learn the vocabulary first, then to listen to the teacher read the material, and then to read through it ourselves.  Trying to read through something where you don’t know what the words mean or how to pronounce them is pointless, frustrating, and counterproductive.  Yet, many language books are structured that way.

Attempting to learn or practice like this is like teaching someone a few boxing moves and then telling them to fight.  It just doesn’t work.  Students with such sub-optimal training will end up overwhelmed and developing bad habits.  And bad habits take much longer to correct than if the material had been learned well in the first place.

The solution is simple.  You need to use what Matt Thornton called the I Method, which I have briefly written about in the training section of my website and in detail in my first book.  There are three phases to the I Method: introduction, isolation, and integration.  It doesn’t matter what you’re learning.  The concepts are the same.

Begin with a single technique.  This is the introduction phase, and it only takes a minute or two in most cases.  Then drill the technique in an easy/cooperative environment with progressive resistance and intensity.  This is the isolation phase, where the technique is learned well and pathways in the brain are really laid down.  The isolation phase can and often should always be a part of training, where you can perfect technical mechanics and increase speed and power without being interrupted.  And the final phase is the integration phase.  At this point you integrate the technique into actual performance.  And at this point it is crucial that you do not train too far above your ability!

You can start the integration phase with a single technique and a single defense with low intensity, and slowly and gradually add techniques and intensity.  The key is to train right around the edge of your skills.  Sometimes a little below them, where you can perform solidly, sometimes at the border where it’s challenging, and sometimes JUST past your level where you fail.  Once you fail, you can stop, determine why you failed, create an isolation exercise to address the failure point, and then re-integrate.

This strategy of training right past the edge of your ability, figuring out why you fail, and creating an exercise to deal exactly with that failure, will lead to very fast and efficient increases in your skills.  On the other hand, if you either get stuck in the introduction phase, which is what happens in many martial arts that primarily use solo training, or get thrown into the integration phase with too many techniques and too much intensity too soon, as is also common, you’ll end up learning very little of anything that actually works.

You can and should apply this to everything that you do or teach!  🙂

The Ultimate Guide to Weapon Use and Defense

The Ultimate Guide to Weapon Use and Defense

The Ultimate Guide to Weapon Use and Defense

After more than two years, my second book on weapon use and defense is finally finished:  The Ultimate Guide to Weapon Use and Defense.

My first book covered techniques, training methods, and strategies for unarmed self defense, awareness and prevention, and physically defending against an unarmed attacker with no weapon of your own.  This second book starts where the first book left off, and covers both unarmed defense against weapon threats and attacks, and how to use weapons to defend against armed opponents.

Although I find both books equally useful, particularly since the material covered is entirely different, and the first book has received very high ratings/reviews, the few people who have read the first book and draft copies of the second one have told me they like the second one even more.  If you’re interested in weapon use and defense, I’m confident you’ll find this book extremely useful.  It contains the most efficient and effective weapon techniques, training methods, and strategies you will find anywhere, for stick, knife, gun, and improvised weapons.

You can find out more about the book, and purchase either a digital version or a hard copy here.  If you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments below or contact me here.

Chi Sao, Hubud, and Other Sensitivity Drills

I recently received an email asking what I think of the value of sensitivity drills and figured the topic would make a good blog post. This is somewhat controversial, as a number of traditional martial arts rely very heavily on such drills, and most sport and MMA fighters consider them to be completely ineffective.

What Are Sensitivity Drills?

For those of you who don’t know what sensitivity drills are, they are a little difficult to define.  I’m not certain about this, but I think the term may have come from Dan Inosanto or someone in the Jeet Kune Do Concepts area, where it was applied to drills like chi sao in Wing Chun, hubud in Kali, pushing hands in Tai Chi, and so on.  The drills tend to take place only at one particular range, and are designed to train reactions to different energy your partner “feeds” you.  The idea is that you become more sensitive to your partner’s energy or force, and learn to respond to it with techniques from the system you’re studying.  If you search YouTube for chi sao, hubud, or pushing hands, you’ll find many examples of such drills.

The term sensitivity drill is usually applied to drills that don’t closely resemble actual fighting.  Although a training drill that works particular counter punch responses to a jab, a cross, and a hook could also be viewed in terms of reacting to energy or techniques fed by your partner, I’ve never heard anyone call such training a sensitivity drill.  From my perspective, it’s possible that the term sensitivity drill was invented to give purpose to drills that are at least a step or two removed from actual fighting…they don’t teach you how to fight, but they increase your sensitivity or qualities that you can use in fighting.

In the JKD Concepts area a distinction is also made between “self preservation” training and “self perfection” training.  The sensitivity drills are considered to be self perfection training whereas sparring or drilling techniques in a realistic context are considered to be self preservation training.

Do Sensitivity Drills Work?

First, I trained and taught such drills for many years.  At the time I felt they were beneficial.  I learned concepts from the drills, honed techniques, and eventually applied some of them in sparring.  So can a person learn something from sensitivity drills?  Certainly.  But the question I asked myself as both a practitioner and a teacher was, are sensitivity drills the most efficient and effective way to learn whatever is supposed to be taught through them?  The answer is no, at least with respect to the drills commonly grouped under that term, and the way they are practiced.  Furthermore, most sensitivity drills also ingrain bad habits.

In my experience, using sensitivity drills to train techniques and qualities is like using a screw driver as a hammer.  You can hammer a nail in with a screw driver, but a hammer would be a much better tool for the job.  The hammer would not only be a more effective tool, but it would also be a lot faster.

Better Alternatives

Think about what it is that you’re trying to train or improve with any given sensitivity drill.  Does it actually provide benefit in a real fight or self defense situation?  If it does, then think about how you can best train it.

Most if not all sensitivity drills I have seen, practiced, and taught, include techniques or combinations of techniques that would not work against a fully resisting uncooperative opponent.  Some of the drills have almost zero resemblance to actual fighting or self defense.  If your goal is to increase skills that can be used in a real self defense situation, then your training drills should mirror what actually happens in a self defense situation as closely as possible.

If you look at how people who fight for a living train, professional fighters, you’ll see that the techniques and drills they use correlate 100% to what they and their opponent’s do in the fight itself.  But let’s look at a sensitivity drill like chi sao in Wing Chun:

Brue Lee Chi Sao

Bruce Lee Chi Sao

Does the above image look even remotely similar to what you might see in a fight?  Unless you’ve been brainwashed, you will have to admit that it does not.  This is exactly why Bruce Lee moved away from such drills and into western boxing.

You can learn techniques and concepts through chi sao that can be used in real fighting or self defense, but if you pull those techniques and concepts out of the drill you can train them exactly as they work in reality in a more efficient and effective manner.

Let’s take a look at two skills people try to increase through chi sao training: controlling and dominating the centerline, and trapping your opponent’s limbs to prevent his offensive and defense.  Both of these skills can be trained exactly as they would be used in self defense, in a scenario based context.  Both of these skills can be practiced in the context of sparring.

My goal in teaching is to provide students with the most efficient and effective path to functional skills.  Rather than learning to trap an opponent’s limbs through a drill that has no resemblance to actual fighting, why not learn to trap an opponent’s limbs in a drill or in training that exactly mirrors fighting?  I can’t think of a single good reason.  Of the two following images, which would be a more functional place to learn to trap your opponent’s arms?  Which would be more likely to lead to skills that you could actually use against an opponent?



Chi Sao

Chi Sao

Both are contrived for the purpose of training, but one is more realistic than the other.  At this point in my teaching and training, I’m fairly certain that anything that can be learned from sensitivity drills can be learned more efficiently and effectively from training methods that more closely resemble actual fighting or self defense situations.  I can get a student to be able to use trapping much faster in the context of boxing than in the context of chi sao.

I’m not implying that techniques from Wing Chun, Kali, and Tai Chi can’t work in self defense.  I use and teach trapping that can be found in Wing Chun and Kali, and techniques that can be found in Tai Chi.  My book is full of them.  But many people don’t recognize them because the context is different from the context they are traditionally taught in.  The traditional context is in my view something that slows students down rather than speeds them up.  In the context of a stylized dojo I can understand how such training could evolve.  But just because many people do it doesn’t make it ideal.

What are your thoughts on this?  Can you think of a quality or skill that would be better to learn in a sensitivity drill than in a more functional/realistic training context?  If so, please let me know in the comments.

Deception In Self Defense

Deception is one of the most effective tactics you can use in self defense, and using it well will allow you to attack where your opponent is unprepared, all but guaranteeing your success.

Below is a quote from The Art of War, an outstanding book of strategy and tactics written in China by Sun Tzu more than 2,500 years ago:

All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near. Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him. If he is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him. If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.

In MMA or fighting sports, deception can be used on a variety of levels.  You can “hold out baits” by leaving certain targets exposed, you can “seem unable” by faking a minor injury or stumble, you can “seem inactive” while actually waiting to ambush when your opponent attacks, you can fake high and hit low, and so on.  But in fighting sports your opponent knows you are there to fight, and he likely knows a good bit about you, your skills, and your fighting style.  In self defense on the other hand, particularly against an unknown assailant, there is no limit to the types of deception you can use.

Pretending to Be Weak

In a real self defense situation your opponent will have no idea if you will fight back.  In fact, in many cases your opponent will probably assume you will not fight back, otherwise he would have chosen an easier victim.  By “pretending to be weak”, acting as if you will not fight back, you can viciously attack your opponent when he does not expect it.  Adopting a fighting posture may help to dissuade an attacker in some situations.  If he believes you are more than he wants to deal with, it may work.  But if you’re pretty certain that you’ll have to fight, doing so when your opponent does not expect it is far superior to giving him cues that tell him to prepare himself.

Most martial arts and fighting sports teach practitioners to adopt a fighting stance in preparation for fighting.  And it’s somewhat natural to attempt to show your opponent that you’re prepared, to put on a show of toughness.  But think about the difference between these two scenarios:

  1.  A guy walks up to you and for some reason he tells you he’s going to fight you.  You back up a bit, get into a fighting stance, and signal that you’re ready.
  2.  A guy walks up to you and for some reason he tells you he’s going to fight you.  From a non-threatening posture you tell him you don’t want any trouble.  Just as he begins to react to your statement you quickly and unexpectedly nail him with the most efficient and effective technique you can use.  Or, you spray him with pepper spray and move out of his way.

Which option do you think would be more likely to succeed?

(Keep in mind that this is only a hypothetical situation.  I would never advocate fighting or physical self defense if there is anything you can do to avoid it.)

Technical Deception & Surprise

Around 1632 in Japan, a swordsman named Yahyu Menenori wrote a text he called The Life-Giving Sword.  In it he wrote about deception:

The truth is hidden within, a ruse is placed without, and in the end one is drawn onto the Path of Truth.  In this way, all deception becomes truth.

Every deception includes an element of surprise, when your opponent realizes that he has been tricked.  Anything you can do to bring your opponent’s attention to one place in order to attack a place where he is unprepared is a successful use of deception.  One great option is to throw something at your opponent’s face, any everyday object (coins, keys, a book, bag, etc.), and then nail him as he reacts to your move.  Everyone will react in some way to having something thrown at their face.  They’ll turn away, close their eyes, attempt to block it, catch it, or even just move their head out of the way.  This will create the opportunity for you to attack while your opponent is unprepared, to kick him as hard as you can in the balls, for example.

In addition to faking or using techniques to bring your opponent’s attention where you want it, using unexpected techniques is a form of deception:

Groin Slap

Groin Slap

In fighting sports there are not only rules and limitations on permissible techniques, but certain conventions in terms of what techniques are used and how.  There are particular sets of techniques that are used in every system, from judo and Brazilian jiu jitsu to MMA.  But in self defense there are no rules.  There are no limitations as to what techniques or weapons you can use.  However, there are general expectations that your attacker will likely have, and violating those expectations can be an incredibly effective tactic.

When the vast majority of people think about fighting, they think about the classic techniques used in MMA, a combination of what is basically boxing/kick boxing/Thai boxing and wrestling.  I’ve trained in MMA gyms, and in my experience everything MMA fighters do is geared toward punching, kicking, and wrestling.  They don’t practice otherwise, and they don’t expect otherwise.

Although techniques like eye strikes and groin slaps aren’t magical moves that will allow you to beat anyone, as you still need to understand and be able to manipulate distance, position, timing, etc., they are extremely effective, and equally important, they are unexpected by the vast majority of average people and fighters alike.

Eye Strike

Eye Strike

The triangular footwork that you can use with eye strikes and groin slaps is unexpected by most people, and when combined with the unexpected targets and the use of deception, they are excellent for self defense.

Whenever you think about potential self defense scenarios, or even fighting/sparring scenarios, consider how you can use deception to your advantage.  As Sun Tzu said, “All warfare is based on deception.”  If you’re not using it, you are seriously handicapping yourself.

How to Avoid a Beating

Wim Demeere recently wrote an excellent post with an embedded YouTube video I’m going to share here.  I’ll comment on the video myself, but please read Wim’s post too.  The video appears to show black shirt trying to start a fight with no shirtNo shirt seems to be trying to avoid the fight, but black shirt continues and eventually hits no shirt and the fight is on.  Although black shirt appears to have been the aggressor, no shirt turns the tables and gives black shirt a very serious beating.  Here’s the video:

Wim writes about how dangerous a street fight can be. The person or people you get involved with may be willing and able to take things much further than you were willing to go. It doesn’t matter what side you are on, whether you are the aggressor or the defender. If you get into a physical conflict with another person, you have no way of knowing how far it will go. This point is extremely important and you need to remember it.  I’ll relate two stories that illustrate this point.

My former boxing coach, a friend of mine, was taking a walk when someone bumped into him.  The situation escalated, and if I remember correctly the other guy attempted to hit him.  My friend ducked, hit the guy with a cross to the solar plexus, and knocked him down with a hook to the jaw.  The guy fell, and my friend bent over him to hit him again.  But then my friend woke up with a variety of injuries.  Apparently someone hit him from behind, knocked him out, and then gave him a beating while he was unconscious.

Another friend of mine, who I wrote about in my book, was sitting in his car with his fiancée at a drive up ATM machine.  Someone approached them and demanded my friend give him money.  My friend was a cop.  He pulled his gun, but before he had pointed it at the robber, he was shot in the head and killed.

In both of those situations, my boxing coach and my police officer friend thought they had the upper hand.  But you just don’t know how skillful the person standing in front of you is.  You don’t know if they have friends you don’t see, or weapons you don’t see.  This is why it is so important to avoid a physical confrontation no matter what it takes.  If you want to survive, the absolute best way to do it is to avoid getting into a fight in the first place.

My boxing coach friend could have continued walking instead of allowing the situation to escalate.  He could have evaded the punch and escaped.  My police officer friend could have given up his money and then called for back up.  It might have hurt their pride, but they would certainly have been better off.

Again, I want to direct you do my awareness and prevention page.  If you haven’t read it, please read it.  If you have read it, please read it again.

Last night my wife and I were having dinner with friends and discussed getting aggravated with drivers who are assholes.  It’s temping to yell at them and/or give them the middle finger.  But if you do that to the wrong person, you may end up with a lot more than you bargain for.  When I was a kid and first got my driver’s license, I was driving on the highway with a friend of mine as a passenger.  Someone behind us was driving like a manic, coming extremely close to the back of my car.  My friend gave him the middle finger, and we both thought it was funny.  But a moment later the guy had pulled up to the side of my car with a gun pointed at us.  As soon as I saw the gun coming up I yelled for my friend to get down and I slammed on the brakes.  I didn’t realize that I nearly caused another car that was behind us to crash into us.  So shortly afterwards the guy that nearly crashed into us drove up to the side of my car screaming that he was going to “kick my ass”.  You just don’t know how these things will end up.  Again, the best thing you can do is avoid a conflict.

Evasive Techniques

One reason I start new students with boxing on the first day of training is because boxing defense includes a great deal of evasive techniques that do not require you to make contact with your opponent.  If you fail to avoid trouble, are unable to maintain a safe distance, and unable to deescalate a situation, then you may be able to use boxing style evasions to evade an attack and escape without a serious physical confrontation.

I know numerous people who have been “jumped”…quickly punched or attacked by strangers on the street, where the attacker(s) strike once or twice and then keep walking, or even running.  In these situations and in others, evading the attack may be more effective than counterattacking.  Evading the attack may end it, whereas counterattacking is likely to escalate it, particularly if there is more than one attacker.  It may not always be possible, but in some situations an initial evasion can be all it takes to end an attack.  The aggressor will see that his initial attack has failed, that you are not an easy target, and if nothing else he will have lost the element of surprise.

Here’s a video from my boxing page, of a basic boxing progression I use with new students.  My partner in the video is a friend of mine who had only practiced three times.  Notice how the catch allows you to avoid getting hit with a simple backward step.  The shoulder roll, starting at 44 seconds, is also an excellent evasive technique.  And the cover, starting at 2:03, is a great technique that can be used with an evasion followed by an escape, rather than the counter punching seen in the video.

The key point here is to avoid a physical confrontation at all costs.  Even if you are attacked, evading the attack and escaping may be a better option than counterattacking.  You just don’t know how far your opponents are willing to take things.  And in addition to the immediate situation, revenge and law suites are another consideration.  Physical self defense training is great exercise and great fun, and it’s possible you may need it some day.  It’s possible that it can save your life.  But it should always be an absolute last resort!

How Fast Can You Learn Self Defense?



My last post, Advanced Class, was a response to a blog post by Rory Miller, where he wrote “everything that works can be taught to proficiency in 40 hours”.  I disagree, and I started to explain why in the last post.  I wrote the post too quickly.  I should have explained more, it could have been more comprehensive, and it was rather rambling.  I’m going to approach the discussion from another angle in this post:  How fast can you learn self defense?

There are at least two parts of that question that need to be clarified:

  • Defense against what?
  • What is your current state in terms of physical fitness and existing skills?

How fast can you learn to defend against what?  A cooperative training partner who isn’t really trying to injure or kill you?  A 40 year old man in average shape who attacks with a combination of punches?  A 20 year old guy who was a high school wrestler?  A 25 year old woman slashing at you with a knife?  A 35 year old gangster who has practiced boxing for years?  What if he has practiced MMA for years?  A gun threat?  How about multiple armed opponents?  What about a competitive MMA fighter?

Where I’m currently living, the MMA gyms are full of immigrants from relatively violent countries, and they’re responsible for the majority of the crime here.  They compete in MMA fights.  They often carry knives.  They train hard for several hours per week if not more, and they’ve been doing it for years.  Can you learn to physically defend against one of them in 40 hours?

Axe Attack

What if he has an axe?

MMA is not self defense.  But there are parallels in the sense that MMA involves striking and grappling, and unarmed self defense also involves striking and grappling.  Do you expect to be able to defend against someone with hundreds or even thousands of hours of MMA training with only 40 hours of training yourself?  Will you be using a weapon?  What if he has a weapon?  What if there are three guys like him?

What is your current state of fitness?  Physical self defense is often like an all out sprint.  Not always, but often.  Are you in good enough shape to handle that?  Are you a small woman with very little strength?  Are you an older person with a disability?  What are your existing skills?  Do you know how to make a fist, where to hit with your palm, or how to do an elbow strike?  Do you have experience with stand up or ground grappling?

I’ve taught a great variety of people all over the spectrum.  I once taught a 70 year old man with no formal training who was a building contractor.  He often got into fights, and he was tough as nails.  He would have easily beaten the majority of people who first walked in my door.  I’ve also taught men and women who had absolutely no idea how to make a fist.  They had no clue how to throw an elbow strike, and even after multiple classes/hours they continued to attempt uncoordinated strikes with the wrong parts of their bodies.  I’ve taught people who learned incredibly fast, much faster than I ever did.  And I’ve taught people who learned very slowly.

So how fast can you learn self defense?  The question is meaningless without a lot of context.

Tool Development

In  my view, self defense includes footwork, kicking, hand strikes, elbows, knees, and headbutts, and defense against them.  It includes stand up and ground grappling, which involves positional dominance and escapes, joint manipulations and chokes from the various positions (standing high tie up variations, standing low tie up variations, the mount, the guard, side mount, knee in stomach, north-south, etc.).  It involves the use of and defense against long blunt and short blunt objects, long sharp and short sharp objects, linked objects, and projectiles.

In a comment on Rory’s original blog post a guy named Jim responded to one of  my comments about this and said:

Well, let’s look at striking quickly. What do you have to do? Impact the weapon against the desired target. The power generation principles run the same, whether we’re looking at a palm, a clenched fist punch, an elbow, or baton. If taught in a principle based manner, all you have to do is change the striking implement. So, instead of an hour block on palms, an hour block on punches, an hour on elbows (OK, figure that’s really on 2+ block of “striking”) coupled with another couple of hours on “baton striking” — we have an hour or two on “power generation & impact weapons.”

This sounds great.  But there’s a serious problem with the reasoning:  The neurological connections that are required to use your hand effectively are different from those required to use your elbow effectively.  You can write using one of your hands, but probably very poorly with the other.  Try attaching a pen to your elbow and see how well you can write with it.  As I wrote previously, I’ve taught people who have had a hard time just learning how to punch or palm without hurting their hand, and who would revert back to ineffective striking repeatedly, for weeks.  “Hard wiring” the connections in your brain takes time.

Someone who can already strike with any part of their body understands that the principle is the same no matter what they’re striking with.  And to them it may seem like this is simple.  But for many people it isn’t a simple matter, even if they get it intellectually.  For some people with very little strength, even if they do strike correctly it will have very little impact unless they have the accuracy to strike someone in the eye, throat, or groin.  And, what happens when their opponent is a guy with 5 years of MMA experience and fighting, who counters that first defensive strike?

Striking should almost always be accompanied by footwork.  Let’s look at a very simple footwork example, a forward step and slide:

Forward Step and Slide

Forward Step and Slide

It looks extremely simple.  And it is.  You step forward a bit with your lead leg, and then your bring your back foot up.  As simple as this is, I don’t know that I’ve ever taught a beginner who could do it in the first few hours, under pressure…forward and/or backward.  Everyone naturally has the tendency to either leave the rear foot back and lean forward, destroying their balance and ability to continue, or to bring the rear foot too far forward, right up to the front foot, also destroying their balance.  The same is true in reverse and side to side, and it’s one reason why so many people fall down when they get attacked.

In our everyday life we often lean forward or backward.  We often bring our feet together or cross our feet.  It takes time to rewire our brains and learn not to do these things in a self defense situation.  And it takes even more time to be able to hard wire these things in, so that the mistakes don’t come out under pressure.  Even after many months of training a student, I still found myself correcting them on these very simple movements.

Anyone can intellectually learn the common denominators of striking and grappling, the core concepts.  But it takes many years of training to be able to effectively fight or defend against someone who also has many years of mixed martial arts experience, for example.  What if your opponent has trained?


What if he also has a sledge hammer?

Quality Development

Techniques are only one small part of self defense skill.  Knowing how to throw a palm strike or do an elbow break is one thing.  Being able to do it against someone who is throwing a punch at your face is another thing entirely.  Being able to do it after someone has already hit you in the face is yet another thing.  To use techniques requires an understanding of and an ability to manipulate distance, position, and timing.  These qualities are anything but natural, and they take time to develop.

Consider the difference between someone who has been boxing for 6 months and someone who has been boxing for 10 years, or a beginning boxer and an expert boxer.  Boxing has very few techniques.  The difference is primarily in their ability to manipulate distance, position, and timing.  For months of training, a beginning boxer will attempt to hit an advanced opponent when he is out of range.  And the beginning boxer will get hit because he’s too close but doesn’t realize it.  He’ll get hit because he poorly times an attack or a defense.  Because the distance, positional understanding, and timing of fighting are not natural to those without a great deal of experience with fighting, they take substantial time to build.


In the comments of Rory’s post he wrote:

Today I saw a young man with no previous training handle a simultaneous full speed attack from three people. That was with ten hours of training. Two more hours and he was putting things together.

How many people at that seminar saw the same thing, and believed that this young man with no previous training really learned how to defend against a full speed attack from three people?  I wouldn’t be surprised if all of them did.  But think about this for a moment.  If one person at the seminar learned to defend against three people, how is it that those three were “beaten” by only one?  The answer is obvious.  The three attackers were not really attacking.  Or at a minimum, they were not continuing their attack.  In the context of a seminar, where “attackers” either aren’t really attacking, or are attacking in seriously limited ways, it’s easy to believe you’re learning more than you are.  What you can do in a cooperative and limited martial arts class is very different from what you will be able to do in reality.

What Can You Learn In A Short Period?

Tough Guy

Tough Guy

Well, you probably won’t learn how to physically defend against a surprise attack by the guy in the picture to the right.  But there is a lot you can learn.  You can learn how to be aware of your surroundings and how to prevent an attack from occurring in the first place.

In terms of physical self defense, I do make things as simple as possible.  Everything you need to do can be thought of as following one simple concept: the Covered Blast.  It doesn’t matter if you’re up against a single unarmed opponent or multiple armed opponents.  The concept works just the same.

If you learn what I call the Fundamental Five and the Four Step Matrix, you’ll have a combination of extremely solid, efficient, and effective techniques that follow the Covered Blast concept.  I’ve taught the Fundamental Five to more than one person who has successfully used one of the techniques in self defense with less than 5 hours of training.  But that doesn’t mean they’ve become proficient at self defense in less than 5 hours!  It simply means they were lucky enough to have been attacked by someone where one of the techniques was the right solution even with minimal training.  If the fellow at right would have surprise attacked them with a hammer, I seriously doubt they would have done so well.

In addition to techniques you need solid training methods, a substantial investment of time, and a lot of hard work.  Learning how to use weapons, particularly something as simple as pepper spray, can go a long way.

Your size does matter.  Your strength does matter.  Your speed does matter.  If you’ve trained before, how athletic you are, how tough you are, how disciplined you are, how fast you learn…it all matters.  There is no easy answer as to how fast you can learn self defense, and the question is relatively meaningless if you consider the infinite variety of attacks you could face.  It’s not fair that a small unarmed woman with very little strength and no training is going to have a hell of a time defending against a strong man who has experience fighting.  But it’s the truth.

No absolute beginner is going to be able to train 40 hours and defend against an experienced opponent, multiple opponents, or armed opponents without a serious dose of luck.  Depending on the qualities you bring to the table, you may be able to learn a lot relatively quickly.  But learning self defense is a process that never ends.  There is always more to learn.  You cannot learn it all in 40 hours, 40 weeks, or even 40 months.

Advanced Class

Today I read a blog post by Rory Miller, Advanced Class. Rory has very interesting and insightful material on violence, among other things, and I link to his blog in my blogroll. So this post isn’t meant to imply that I disagree with all of his material. In fact, his material on violence led me to realize that I wasn’t putting enough emphasis on awareness and prevention in my own teaching, at least on my website, and that I tended to take it for granted rather than vocalizing it. Anyway, I disagree with nearly every aspect of his post, left a comment there, and want to expand on it here.

The premise of Rory’s post, as I see it, is that “everything that works can be taught to proficiency in forty hours.” He does write that “years spent practicing would hone the skills”, but then writes, “but in the end, this isn’t hard”. I very much disagree with this, and I suspect that with more thought on the matter Rory will also.

Concepts or Techniques

Rory is explaining that he teaches concepts, that everything boils down to manipulating skeletons (our skeletal structure and the skeletal structure of our opponents). He uses joint manipulations as an example, writing that there are thousands of techniques, but only eight underlying concepts. So if you know the eight concepts, you have the thousands of techniques available right away.

First, every method of categorization and teaching has problems. There are problems with breaking joint manipulations into thousands of techniques, and there are also problems with breaking them into eight principles or eight categories. If you teach someone thousands of joint manipulations, it’s going to take a very long time, many of them will be ineffective, and it will take the practitioner an unnecessarily long time to really get the substance of joint manipulations…how to APPLY them in reality, under pressure. But if you teach them eight principles they can use to break or lock a joint, they may not even discover the best techniques in any given situation. They may train the techniques they discover in an unrealistic scenario, with unrealistic levels of force, cooperation, and resistance (which is also a problem with the thousands of techniques approach), and so on. You cannot give a student a long list of techniques or a handful of concepts and expect them to be able to apply either, especially not in 40 hours.

No method is perfect. Every method has advantages and disadvantages. But even more importantly, you can’t give a student a handful of new techniques, concepts, or even training methods, and expect them to be proficient in any period of time. First, they need it all, in combination. Second, they need guidance to keep them on the right track. That guidance can theoretically come through their own feedback if they are using effective training methods, but without giving them the best techniques, they may never discover them.

A friend, cop, and former student of mine wrote in the comments of another post: “The best decision is the right decision, the second best decision is the wrong decision.” Similarly, there is a “best” technique for any given person in any given situation. I’m talking about physics paired with physiology here. There is a single best technique, and every other technique is not the best technique. That doesn’t mean a sub-optimal technique won’t work. But it also doesn’t mean that sub-optimal techniques are ideal, or that giving a group of students a hand full of concepts and telling them to discover what works best is an ideal approach.

People learn and discover many, many things, if not most, that are not efficient, effective, ideal, or even true. That’s why you not only need to give them concepts, but also techniques. That’s why you can’t expect a student will learn all they need to learn in 40 hours, and then the rest of their time can be spent honing those skills/techniques/concepts. They need the guidance of an expert teacher to keep them on the most efficient and effective path. Otherwise, the easiest thing is to get off of that path without even realizing it.

Hard Work, Time, and Adjustment

40 hours is *nothing* in terms of really learning the fundamental concepts of any living/changing/interactive “art”. It’s not even enough time to get a basic understanding. I started playing a new musical instrument about 2 years ago. I take private lessons and practice for at least 2 hours every day. I’ve read numerous books on the instrument, the music, and the music theory. I listen to the music for at least another hour or two each day in addition to my practice. And I’m just beginning to have basic understanding of the full range of the instrument. I’m at the very beginning of understanding the music. Sure, I intellectually knew about the instrument and the music in a relatively short period, but I had zero ability or deep/personal understanding.

It’s no different with learning a language. It’s no different with learning to dance. Any interactive, live art will take a great deal of hard work and time to learn. Without expert guidance, you will not follow a straight or efficient path to solid ability, unless by unlikely chance.

Rory writes: “Do you have to teach a dog pack dynamics or an ape how to live in a troop? Hell no. So with humans you just have to point out what they already know.” This is incorrect, and the implications even more so. A dog learns “pack dynamics” through being raised in a pack. The dog is taught pack dynamics through the experience of living in a pack. An ape learns how to live in a troop by growing up in a troop from birth, through experience. It does have to be taught.

The human mind and body is incredibly adaptive. If we’re born and raised in an environment with no violence or hostility, we will not understand or be able to deal with violence and hostility. If we are raised in a violent environment, we will adapt (or not!) and learn how to survive in it. But the majority of people reading Rory’s post, and this one, did not grow up fighting. They did not grow up surrounded by real violence. Most people reading these posts do not instinctively have an effective response to being attacked by another human. These responses are most definitely learned, and just like any other living and interactive art, they take a great deal of time and experience to learn.

Concepts are not enough. Techniques are not enough. Training methods are not enough. You need all of them, AND you need to put in the work and time. To progress at a decent pace, you need a teacher to provide guidance, to adjust your path when you move off of it.

When I had my school, I taught the crash to almost every new student on day one. I explained the concepts behind it. I explained that using specific defensive techniques that must be matched to specific offensive techniques is likely to fail in the face of an unexpected attack. You don’t know what your opponent is going to attack with. You don’t know if it’s the right hand or the left hand, a straight punch or a hook. Is the first move a fake? You don’t know. So having a single “punching defense” that works against all high-line attacks is a more effective option. Everyone I taught understood this on day one. Yet none of the martial artists I taught had ever learned or discovered such a technique, despite many of them having practiced and/or taught for years. And despite everyone understanding this, no one REALLY got the significance of it until they had practiced for a long time…much more than 40 hours. One student came to class a year or two after he had started, and as I opened the door he said, “I finally get the crash!”. These things are not natural.

Rory’s point is that there is no “advanced class”. There are the fundamental concepts, and then there is practicing them. But there is much more than that. There are numerous techniques to learn that do require time and guidance. At the introductory level practitioners will learn them at an introductory level! The material practiced in an “advanced class” may not be different from the material practiced in beginning classes, but the level at which it should be practiced will indeed be very different, as will the subtlety with which it is practiced. And that will be greatly enhanced, more efficiently learned, with the guidance of an instructor.

NOTE: I’ve expanded/updated this topic here: How Fast Can You Learn Self Defense?

How to Fight Multiple Opponents

No one can simultaneously fight multiple opponents without getting hit or grabbed and possibly taken out.  It only works in the movies.  The key to fighting multiple opponents is to fight them one at a time.  There are a couple of ways to do that, which I’ll describe below.  But first…

Before you can successfully fight multiple opponents you need to be able to effectively fight or defend against a single opponent.  You need to have effective techniques, realistic training methods, and a solid strategy.  If you’re missing any one of those things, you may get lucky against a single individual, but it’s highly unlikely you’ll succeed against multiple opponents.  So the first step is to have solid skills.  If you haven’t already read it, read my web page on self defense training.  All of that applies equally and even more so in multiple opponent scenarios.

So how do you fight multiple opponents one at a time?

Line Them Up

No matter what technique you attempt first, you need to use footwork that causes the opponent you’re currently dealing with to block the other opponent’s path to you.  If you’re facing two opponents this isn’t that hard, however, it becomes harder and harder to maintain as time progresses and/if you get bogged down with one.  You need to train this to get accustomed to it.  A good drill to start is to face two training partners, tell one of them to try to touch you, and use the other one as a shield.  Quickly move to put the “shield” between yourself and the man trying to touch you.  You’ll see that this gets tiring very quickly, and becomes harder the more it goes on.

Progress to doing boxing style sparring against two partners, where you train to line them up so you only fight one at a time.  Then add kicking, clinch, ground, etc..  Obviously you’ll want to avoid clinch and ground against multiple opponents, but your opponents need to be able to try to grab/clinch you, and you need to be able to defend against those attempts.  My grappling defense works very well to stop a clinch/takedown attempt.

Using techniques that incorporate triangular footwork can work very well against multiple opponents, as the footwork allows you to attack and line up the opponents simultaneously.  Here is an example of a single stick triangular footwork drill in pictures.  You can see it in video on this page.  Obviously using a weapon would be a great advantage against multiple opponents (more on that soon), but the same footwork can be used with a variety of techniques.  In the pictures below I’m using triangular footwork with an eye strike and a groin slap, both great potential initial techniques to be used in a multiple opponent scenario:

Eye Strike

Eye Strike

Groin Slap

Groin Slap

Many techniques that aren’t typically done with triangular footwork can be, or you can strike and then quickly use such footwork to get you to the opponent’s outside.

Another way to line up opponents is to force them into having to line up for you.  If you’re standing near a doorway or hallway for example, you can quickly sprint through it and stop, creating a situation where the opponents can only get to you one by one.  Training to blast through a “line” of opponents, escaping to a strategic position, can also be a great training exercise.

Quickly Take One of Them Out

If you’re up against two opponents and you can quickly take one of them out, then you’ll effectively be fighting only one.  If you’re up against three and you can quickly take one out, then you can line up the other two.  This is a great strategy in theory, but unless you have the element of surprise on your side (and hopefully you set things up that way), it’s not easy to take someone out with one shot, particularly if they’re moving, defending, or attacking you at the same time.  Of course you should try to eliminate each opponent as quickly as possible, but make sure to still attempt to “line them up” in case your take-out-move fails.

Use a Weapon

Using a weapon that you’ve trained to use well can vastly increase your odds in a multiple opponent scenario.  See my weapons page for more on using weapons in self defense.  A weapon will allow you to take out your opponent’s quicker, and depending on the weapon you may be able to extend your reach, allowing you to more easily line them up.  Projectile weapons (pepper spray, a bright tactical light at night, or a gun) and long range weapons (stick, machete, etc.) are the best choices for multiple opponent scenarios.

When I first started training in traditional martial arts I had what I realize now was a misguided and silly idea, that weapons weren’t for real martial artists.  Many people who write me want to be able to use their unarmed martial art in all situations.  But that’s just not realistic.  There are many situations that would be difficult if not impossible to survive without the use of a weapon.  For that reason, I highly recommend learning to use them, and using them whenever you need to.  If you’re attacked by multiple opponents, that would certainly qualify.

Don’t Fight Multiple Opponents!

The best option if you’re facing multiple opponents is not to fight them at all.  If you can avoid fighting, then you’re guaranteed not to lose.  Remember, we’re talking about self defense here, not sports or movies.  If you follow the advice on my awareness and prevention page, 99.9% of the time you’ll never have a problem…you’ll be able to stop the fight before it even starts.  But if it’s unavoidable, then you need to use the element of surprise, take each man out as quickly as possible, ideally using a weapon, and line the opponent’s up so you can deal with them one at a time.

Questions, comments, or thoughts?  Let me know in the comments!

Secrets of Karate

The first martial art I ever took, as a child, was Shotokan Karate.  As a teenager, I began seriously practicing and teaching a karate based system with a heavy self defense emphasis.  The school was in a rough area of New Orleans and this was during the height of the worst crime there, in the early 90s.  Half of our practice was defense against gun, knife, and stick attacks.  Students used the techniques in self defense, and they did work, despite the fact that there were/are more efficient and effective options.

I noticed during that time that the karate I was training was different from what I saw being trained in other schools.  It was harder, rougher, more direct, and more painful.  I also bought as many karate books as I could find, including on a couple of extended trips to Japan.  This was before the internet and YouTube, so information was limited.  I discovered in the books that there was a real difference between modern karate or karate-do and the older, combat oriented karate-jutsu.  For a while I started calling the karate I practiced karate-jutsu, or the older name, to-te.

I moved on to other styles, techniques, and training methods, and for the most part I haven’t specifically practiced karate ever since.  But many of the principles I learned and many of the qualities I have are a result of that training.

What I trained in karate and what I learned from the older books aren’t actually “secrets” in the sense that they’re purposefully hidden.  But they are unfortunately either unknown by most practitioners I’ve met, or at least ignored and not practiced.  So I recently decided to add a section to my website on functional karate, hoping to shed light on some of these things…to demonstrate functional usage of karate techniques.

As I wrote on the karate page, karate isn’t for everyone.  The techniques are pretty hard core if practiced in a functional way.  But if you feel comfortable with that type of technique, if it suits you, then give the ones in my video a try.  I’m confident you’ll find them to be effective.

I’ve also added a new page to my site with images and details of the gun threat defense I demonstrated in the video, here.

If you’ve practiced karate yourself, are you aware of these “older applications”?  Have you practice them?  If not, why not?  And for all of you, do these techniques look like techniques you’d like to see more of?  Let me know in the comments.