Category Archive: Training Methods

How to Get In The Zone

Great performers of all sorts, from athletes to musicians, have experienced being in the zone. It is the optimal state for performance, where the performer and performance are one, unobstructed by conscious thought.

Many performers assume this state of mind is a random byproduct of the act of performing, not realizing it is simply a state of mind that with practice can be readily accessible.

This state of being in the zone is the same state that meditators work to discover, maintain, observe, and gain insight from – a state of core consciousness and awareness, unobstructed by thoughts and conceptions.

The name Buddha means “one who is awake”, and refers to this ideal. For meditators, life is the performance, and the goal is to wake up and maintain the experience throughout life.

Why Should You Care?

The ability to “wake up” or be in the zone at will is more valuable than anything else you can achieve. It is the doorway not only to optimal performance, but much more importantly, to a deep sense of happiness and satisfaction in life where stress, sadness, anger, and pain cannot touch you – liberation and freedom. There is nothing better.

I’ve tried to write about this a number of times over the years without sounding either crazy, unintelligible, or pointless. Today I think I may have found the words to make intellectual sense.

What Is Waking Up?

To be awake is to be fully aware in the present flow. We do not exist in the past. We do not exist in the future. We only exist in the present flow. There is only the present flow. It is the only place where we actually exist.

To be fully aware in the present flow cannot happen on the level of your thinking mind. It can only happen on the level of your core consciousness.

From your core consciousness you will perceive the arising of thoughts. On this level the perception of a thought arising will be no different to you from the perception of the sound of a bird chirping. The perception of a thought arising, no matter the contents of the thought, will not affect or change your core consciousness.

Thus, your core consciousness, perceptions, feelings, and emotions are not affected or influenced by your thoughts or ideas.

In our normal consciousness we feel that we are identical to our thoughts. Our perceptions, feelings, and emotions are dictated by our thoughts, and we ride them like a boat on rough water or dust blown around in the wind. There is a fundamental lack of freedom in this, not to mention emotional instability.

Being fully aware in the present flow, aware from the level of your core consciousness, there is a profound freedom – freedom from the past, the future, the limits of your thoughts and ideas – and a profound perception of perfection and satisfaction. The experience is literally like waking up from a dream. Perception becomes faster. Every sight, sound, and sensation becomes clearer. Any form of stress or negativity disappears. Performance is optimized. On observation and reflection, deep and numerous insights can be realized.

How Long Does It Last?

How long this state lasts and how frequently you access it largely determines how much it changes your life. The longer and more frequently you wake up, the more it rewires your brain, the more insights you can realize, leading to deeper places, and the more quickly and easily you can do it at will.

The ultimate goal for some meditators is to wake up permanently, the mind state of what is perhaps only a mythical Buddha. I am open to the possibility, but I have serious doubts as to if waking up permanently is achievable. If it is, to rewire your brain so completely it would likely require living isolated and meditating constantly for the majority of your life. But there is a spectrum, from a single unrealized experience of being in the zone that does nothing to change your life, to a fully enlightened Buddha.

Establishing a Practice

By establishing a practice of meditation, you can learn to free your mind or wake up every day. The more you do it, the longer it will last, and the closer your everyday mind will be to it. You will be able to notice when a negative or unproductive thought arises, quickly go to your core level of consciousness, and clear your mind of the negativity. Even if not a fully enlightened “Buddha”, you will realize a liberating freedom, deep satisfaction, and a way to nullify stress, anger, sadness, and any other negative feeling or emotion.

This waking up practice gives you the ability to be alive and happy on a level that most people, sleepwalking through life or riding on the waves of their unconscious thoughts, can hardly imagine. Again, it is literally like waking up from a dream.

How Do You Practice?

My current sitting meditation practice is fairly simple, but it does take time and effort – time and effort very well spent. I’m not a meditation teacher, but I can tell you what works well for me.

1. Sit in a comfortable position with your back straight, so your posture is maintained more by your skeletal structure than by muscular tension. My preference is to use a zafu cushion and sit on the floor, cross-legged. You can close your eyes or leave them open. Many people prefer to close their eyes. I prefer to keep mine open and fixed on a point in front of me.  Take a couple of breaths to relax, and then simply observe your breathing. Observe the inhalation, and observe the exhalation. Thoughts will disrupt your observation. When you realize you have become lost in thought, return your observation to the present flow of your breathing. Do this for a while.

2. Expand your awareness/observation to your entire body. Your breath is part of your body awareness, and you can use it to help keep you in the flow of the present. Do this for a while.

These two steps alone will do a great deal to stop your thought patterns, reduce stress, and increase your physical health.

3. Here is the somewhat tricky/subtle part – Turn your attention inward and look for what it is that is observing your body, breath, and everything externally. In this looking, you will find nothing there but your core consciousness in the present flow.

This is the goal.  You may be able to skip steps 1 and 2 and go straight to this step.  In my own practice, I begin here now.  If this doesn’t make sense to you, after practicing steps 1 and 2 for a while, it should begin to make sense.

Hold on to this core conscious awareness. Here you will see the arising of thoughts but be unaffected by them. Every sensation, what you see, hear, feel, and any thoughts that arise, will be one in the same – consciousness or energy in the present flow. You will be in the zone, awake. Hold on to this for a while. Try to maintain it even as you get up from your meditation spot. Try to maintain it longer and longer, and more often.

Disclaimer

I have practiced different forms of meditation since 1992, but I’m really not a meditation teacher.  I did teach a basic form of meditation that I learned from my first instructor to many of my students, for 10 years or so, aimed at developing concentration for martial arts/self defense practice, and although that practice had a deep and profound impact on me, I do not have the experience of efficiently guiding practitioners there.

My current practice, listed above, has been the most effective and enduring. The steps that I have described were positively influenced by a Sam Harris podcast with Joseph Goldstein, and Harris’ book, Waking Up. The idea that had the biggest impact on both my practice and my ability to describe it was stated by Sam Harris as an idea from Dzogchen: “The goal is the path.”

This idea is that there is not a path where the goal is only found at the end of the path. The goal itself, to wake up, is available to us all right now. It simply involves looking in the right place in the right way. The path to the final goal, a full and permanent awakening, or at least an extension of the time that we are awake, is to simply hold on to the experience of waking up. The goal is the path.

If you take the time and effort to do this, you can maximize your performance in everything that you do. You can realize a liberating freedom, unchained from your past and from the limits of thinking and conceptions. You can dramatically increase your well-being and minimize negativity in your life. You can literally wake up from the dream-like state that the vast majority of people live in. I highly recommend it.

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.

Throwsticks

Throwsticks

Throwsticks

My friend Benjamin Scott recently launched his website on throwsticks. He describes throwsticks as “a primal hunting/survival/multi-tool dating back from ancient civilizations on at least five continents.” Ben makes nearly indestructible replicas of the Australian Aboriginal version called the kylie, arguably the best made hand thrown objects in the world. He has them for sale on his site: www.throwsticks.com

Ben sent me one of his throwsticks in the middle of last year. I tested it, loved it, and have been meaning to write about it ever since. I also wanted to make a video demonstrating it, but over the last 6 months I’ve been so busy traveling/moving that I haven’t had time to write a single post on this site, much less make a video. Until I do have time to make a video, this post will have to suffice.

The throwsticks or kylie that Ben is making are awesome survival tools. They’re designed to fly straight and level, and you can throw them a solid 85 meters if not farther. The Australian Aborigines used them primarily for hunting, but they also doubled as close range striking weapons, and you could use them as a close range throwing weapon too.

My favorite thing about Ben’s throwsticks is how fun they are to throw. When I first got mine, my brother and I spent a couple of days throwing it back and forth at great distances on a deserted beach. The way they fly, and the way they feel to throw, is amazing.

Throwing Objects In Self Defense

In addition to the throwsticks being a great deal of fun, I think learning to throw objects in self defense is seriously undervalued. It’s unlikely that you’re going to take someone out completely by throwing something at them, although if you nailed someone in the face or knee with one of Ben’s throwsticks that would certainly do the job! But throwing things at an opponent is an excellent idea, and the more accurate and harder you can do it, the better. In most natural environments there will be something you can throw at your opponent, and if you accurately hum something at your opponent’s face you will always get some kind of reaction, putting your opponent on defense. Either your opponent will get hit in the face, or he will be forced to move and/or block. Any of these options will create openings for you to exploit.

In my book on weapon use and defense I demonstrate at least a couple of examples of throwing objects at an opponent in self defense – using a backpack and a book. One of my favorite combinations is to throw something at an opponent’s face and follow with an immediate kick to the groin, etc.. You can do this with almost anything. As I sit here typing this post, my laptop, a vase in front of me, and a magazine next to me could all be used for such a purpose. If someone knocked down my front door my first move would be to grab whatever is next to me and throw it at them, putting them on defense and buying me a bit more time to get an advantage. In order to be as effective as possible with such a tactic, actually practicing throwing objects at targets makes sense. This is another reason I really love Ben’s throwsticks. They’re fun, useful for self defense training, and for anyone into outdoor survival they’re an excellent tool for a variety of purposes.

Whether you’re interested in buying one or not, I highly recommend you check out Ben’s website. He has numerous videos there showing how they work, along with very interesting information on their history and use.

Note: I am not profiting in any way if you buy a throwstick from Ben. I’ve written this post only because I think Ben has a great product that I think you’ll enjoy owning and practicing with. 🙂

A Bad Review

Bad Review

Bad Review

A couple of months ago someone wrote a bad/one star review of my first book, The Ultimate Guide to Unarmed Self Defense, on Amazon.com.  There are two unfortunate aspects to this review.  First, it is entirely wrong.  And second, it caused my book sales to immediately drop by about 75%.  I’m going to address the points this person made in the review here on my blog.

You can see the bad review here.

I think the main reason he disliked the book was due to his misunderstanding regarding this sentence that he wrote: “The author’s insistence that sport based fighting form the base for real world self defense was also highly suspect.

On both my website and in my book, I explain that the foundation of unarmed physical self defense training should be what I call the MMA Base, which is simply training punches, kicks, knees, elbows, and wrestling against an uncooperative opponent.  If you do not train these most common techniques against an uncooperative opponent, then you cannot learn to defend against them.  Period.  Many martial arts practitioners do not realize this.  It should be entirely uncontroversial, but unfortunately it isn’t.  In order to learn to defend against something, you have to actually train against it!

But the MMA Base is not self defense, and I’ve never said that it is.  The MMA Base is one small part of self defense.  Self defense involves a combination of strategy, training methods, and techniques that include awareness and prevention, unarmed physical self defense, and armed physical self defense.  The MMA Base is only one part of unarmed physical self defense training and techniques.  Awareness and prevention are far more important than the MMA Base, for example.  It is for this reason that the MMA Base section of my book is in Chapter 6 and not Chapter 1.

Before I get to the MMA Base in the book, in Chapter 1 I cover the difference between self defense and martial arts, pointing to the fact that self defense and MMA/sport based fighting are not the same.  The first chapter of my book points out the opposite of what this reviewer claims I insist upon.  The second and third chapters are all about violence, avoidance, awareness, and prevention – part of the strategic side of self defense.  I write in the book that this should be all you need for 99% of self defense.  Again, this is the opposite of saying that sport based fighting should form the base for real world self defense.  Chapters 4 and 5 cover more aspects of self defense strategy, along with functional training.  In Chapter 5 one section is titled “Self Defense: Beyond the MMA Base“, which includes this:

“The techniques and systems of the MMA Base are designed primarily for one-on-one sport based fights between people in similar weight classes, in an area designed for safe fighting, where both participants know what is about to happen. There are rules that prohibit some of the most effective and damaging techniques from being used, and by removing those techniques from the equation, unique and effective footwork, perfect for self defense, is also neglected. For the most efficient and effective physical self defense, we must go beyond the MMA Base.”

I proceed to explain why sport based fighting is not enough for physical self defense.

After Chapter 6, on the MMA Base, there are chapters on Functional Self Defense, Environmental Applications, and Physical and Mental Fitness – all important components of self defense that have nothing whatsoever to do with sport based fighting.  So I’m not sure what book this reviewer read, but it doesn’t appear to be mine!

The reviewer also wrote, “I did not find any new or original material and/or insights inside this tome.”  Again, he must not have read the book.  I have hundreds of martial arts and self defense books myself, and spend time at least looking at every new book that I come across.  I can guarantee this reviewer that he has never seen some of the concepts, strategies, and techniques that are covered in my book.  There absolutely are new and original material and insights in my book.

What frustrates me about this review is not so much that this one person missed just about everything in the book, although that is frustrating, but that his misguided review has caused many people not to buy the book.  (This is most likely due to the book ranking worse because of his review, although I’m sure some people have decided not to buy it after reading what he wrote.)  And the primary reason I am frustrated about people not buying the book has nothing to do with me making money by selling it.  I made this website and wrote the books because I genuinely care about people knowing what works and what doesn’t in terms of self defense.  It is a passion of mine.  This is not what I do for a living.  I don’t need the money.

I receive emails almost every day from people who have either read my books or spent time on my website, telling me how much they have learned from the material.  Most of them have practiced other martial arts, and many are martial arts instructors.  Just as I was taught ineffective material and thought it was effective, these people have done the same.  Reading my books and training the material in them has allowed people to see what actually works and what doesn’t, to really learn self defense, and to make their training much more functional and realistic.  It frustrates me that this one bad review from someone who clearly either didn’t read my book or somehow didn’t see most of what was in it, has substantially decreased the number of people who have access to realistic, functional material.

So I have a favor to ask.  Many of you reading this have purchased my books.  Many of you have emailed me to express how much you learned from them.  If you’ve read the books, please take a minute or two to write a review on Amazon.  Doing so will help other martial artists and self defense practitioners who won’t see this material otherwise.  Thank you!

Update: Changes Ahead

I haven’t posted or sent out any emails/updates in several months now.  I’ve been very busy with a number of big changes.  At some point early next year things will settle down, and I have plans to add more videos to my website in addition to possibly offering instructional videos.  I’ll also get back to posting more on this blog.  I have a backlog of at least a couple hundred emails, and I apologize if you’ve written and I haven’t written back.  I’ll try to respond soon!

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!  🙂

How to Avoid Injury

Training for physical self defense is harsh. There’s just no easy way around it. If you want to learn how to deal with a fully resisting opponent who is trying to take your head off, then you have to train against a fully resisting partner who is trying to take your head off. Anything less will not prepare you for the brutality of a real attack. But you don’t have to train 100% intensity all the time, and you should do it as safely as possible.

The purpose of self defense training, other than for enjoyment and exercise, is to develop the skills to avoid injury in an assault. So it certainly makes sense to train in such a way that minimizes the chance of injuring yourself and your training partners.

I’ve definitely had more than my share of injuries over the years, from bruises and sprains to broken bones and torn ligaments. And I’ve also unfortunately injured numerous training partners. In my teens and 20’s, my biggest concern with injuries was that they limited my ability to practice and teach. But in my 30’s and now 40’s, the injuries from my past have added up, and these days if I do get injured it takes far longer to heal than when I was younger. At this point in my life, avoiding injury is probably the most important consideration in my training. I wish it would have been the same when I was younger, and I highly recommend you make it an important consideration in your training. Below are several concepts you can use in your training to minimize injury.

Progressive Resistance

One of the best ways to avoid injury is to train with progressive resistance. When you begin with any technique or training method, you need to start slowly and with low intensity. As your skills increase, when you feel safe and comfortable at a given level, you can slowly increase the intensity. The key is never to increase the intensity too far beyond the limits of your skills.

This not only decreases your chance of injury, but it also leads to faster learning. Training too far above your skill level teaches you nothing, because you’ll tend to fail in ways that are hard to learn from. Training right at the border of your skill level, pushing past it just a bit, will cause you to fail. But the failures will be small and much easier to learn from. At this level, your partner should also be able to use better control to avoid injuring you even when you do fail. You do need to get to the point where you and your training partners are really trying to take each other out, but doing so with progressive resistance, moving forward only as you can safely do so, is crucial.

Protective Gear

I prefer to train with as little gear as possible, and I’ve read about studies that have shown that protective gear actually increases injuries, particularly brain damage, because people think they can go harder and less safely than they should. Boxing gloves for example lead to boxers ending up with much worse brain damage than if they had practiced without gloves, as the gloves cause boxers to take thousands and thousands of punches to the head. Without gloves, punches would have to be thrown softer or with the open hand to avoid hand injuries, and fights would probably be over quicker as strikes would do more surface damage than with gloves.  In any case, boxing is one of the most brain damaging sports there is.

With that said, in certain situations protective gear just makes a great deal of sense. When training with eye strikes, protective goggles are a necessity. I was once accidentally hit by a student with an eye strike, and his finger nail went into my cornea. Due to both the strike and the treatment, that was one of the most painful injuries I’ve ever had. If you’re training eye strikes, wear goggles!

If groin strikes are a possibility, purposefully or accidentally, wear a cup. I was once kneed so hard in the groin that it hurt to walk and sit for many months. Trust me, it’s not something you want to experience.

A mouthpiece is also a necessity for harder training. I’ve had ligaments in my jaw torn that made me unable to eat for two weeks, and led to repeated pain for years. If I would have been wearing a mouthpiece, it’s likely that I wouldn’t have been injured, or less severely. I’ve also knocked out training partner’s teeth, which could have been prevented if we had been wearing mouthpieces. And this doesn’t only go for stand-up/striking. When grappling it’s easy to get an accidental foot or knee to the face/jaw, so a mouthpiece is a great idea for almost any type of training.

I’ve also gotten hit and hit training partners in the hand with sticks, causing various hand injuries. These days whenever I spar with sticks I wear hockey gloves. There’s just no good reason not to considering how bad and lasting hand injuries can be.

I generally prefer not to wear head gear. Not only does head gear tend to restrict your vision, but like with boxing gloves I feel it causes practitioners to take too many head shots. The exception I make is when stick sparring. For stick sparring it is safer to wear head gear with a face cage. However, padded sticks are an option that I prefer for most stick sparring.

Don’t Do High Kicks

For the first 10 or 15 years of my practice and teaching, high/head kicks were a part of my training. They not only destroyed my hips and lower back, but also did the same to my primary training partner and another person I taught with. For about the last 3 years I’ve had nearly constant pain in my right sacroiliac joint, which my doctor has said was most likely caused by high kicking.

I know high kicks can be fun, and they’re a big part of many martial arts. But our bodies were not meant to be used that way, and if you practice high kicks hard and long enough there is a pretty good chance that you’ll wreck your joints. You might not feel it now, but you probably will later. Take my advice, and forget about the high kicks!

Lower Intensity Training

Again, you do need to train hard in order to learn how to deal with a full power attack. But you don’t need to train as hard as you can 100% of the time. Use progressive resistance to safely get up to your max level, but only train at that level occasionally. Most of my training now is probably between 50-70% of max intensity, and I only train at 100% with certain drills that are safer than sparring or completely random/uncooperative practice.

If you have any additional ideas for training safe and avoiding injury, please leave them in the comments below!

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?

Threat

Threat

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.

How Many Reps Should You Do?

I’d like to share an idea I read about on another blog this morning that I find very useful.  How many good vs. bad repetitions do you need to practice in order for whatever you’re doing to stick correctly?

When you’re learning something new you’re not going to do it exactly right the first time around.  Let’s say it takes you 20 attempts to do it more or less correctly.  You got it “wrong” 19 times but right on 20.  According to what Noa (a sports/performance psychologist) wrote on the post Adequate Learning vs. Overlearning, the optimal number is around 20 more correct reps, or 100% more correct reps.  This makes a great deal of sense to me.

Whatever we learn is stored in pathways in our brains.  Incorrect repetitions create incorrect pathways.  So if you’ve practiced something wrong 19 times and right only once, you’ve trained your brain to do whatever it is you’re doing wrong.

Of course it’s not quite so simple.  It may be that each repetition was better and better, so instead of ingraining a bad pathway 19 times you were actually modifying/changing one from wrong to right.  Nevertheless, what you really want to ingrain in your brain is the best pathway.  So it makes sense that you’d want to do at least as many correct/perfect/ideal repetitions as incorrect or sub-optimal reps.

In my own practice and teaching I probably don’t do enough correct reps after learning a new technique or skill.  This leads to coming back the next day and doing worse than I did at the end of the previous day.  Then I wonder why I “got it” the day before, but lost it the next day.  Based on Noa’s post and the corresponding research, the reason makes sense.  I did it wrong more than I did it right, so the right path wasn’t optimally ingrained.

I’m definitely going to try to integrate this concept into my practice, and I think you should too.  I also highly recommend subscribing to Noa’s blog.  Although it’s related to music, most of his posts are about learning or performance, have excellent insights, and apply equally to any performance art.

You Need to Fail

Failure

Failure

In one of my recent posts, Is Your Training Realistic, I mentioned two important aspects of functional training. First, if your training partner isn’t really trying to stop you from succeeding with your techniques then you need to tell him “don’t let me do this”. And you need to hold him to it. Second, you need to make sure the techniques you’re using in sparring are the same as those you are using in drills and other training methods. If your training partner isn’t trying to stop you by any means, and if the techniques and applications you’re drilling are not what you’re using in sparring, then your training is not realistic.

The Value of Failure

Here’s another thing to keep in mind: You need to fail. If you’re not failing in your practice, then you are not realistically training and you are not maximizing your ability to learn. If you’re not failing, then you’re not pushing to your limit. If you’re not pushing to your limit, then you don’t know where your limit is, or where the borders of your skills are.

You need to know where your limits are in order to most effectively work on extending them, on increasing your skills. You shouldn’t be training to fail, but you should be training until failure at least some of the time. When your partner attacks, resists, or fights back more than you can handle, causing your defense to fail, it provides the best opportunity for you to learn. At which point did you fail? Why did you fail? Repeat it again. Slow it down or lighten up just a little until you no longer fail, and then gradually increase the intensity to extend your skills. If you need to, break whatever you were doing down into different components to figure out exactly where your problem areas are. Focus on the problem area until you’ve solved it, put the parts back together again, and repeat.

Continuously training above your level, where your instructor or opponent is always beating you, is not productive at all. But training well below your level, where you’re always winning, is equally unproductive. The ideal place to train is right below the edge of your skills, having your partner push just beyond them to gradually extend your limits.

Strength Training

If you’re doing strength training, and you should be for health reasons, this same principle applies. The growth of muscle and strength is a biological adaptation. Your body is not going to adapt unless it thinks it needs to. You have to send the signal to your body that it must adapt. How do you do that? With failure.

If can lift 100 pounds ten times, and you continuously go to the gym and lift 100 pounds ten times, you are never going to increase your strength. If you want to increase your strength, you need to fail in your workouts. You need to attempt to do more repetitions than you can, or more weight than you can. When you fail, it will send the signal to your body that it needs to adapt. Otherwise, your body will have no good reason to add strength or muscle.

Failure In General

Anyone who has ventured out and tried new things will fail. I’ve certainly failed a lot more than I’ve succeeded! But failure should be the best lesson you can learn. It’s a step on the path to success. Failure may teach you that something is harder than you thought. But it shows you where your skill or knowledge gaps are, which allows you to fill those gaps. You may also learn that whatever you were trying to do isn’t worth the risk or the effort. That’s ok too. But if you’re never failing, then you aren’t really trying. Look at failure as a positive sign, and use it to grow. It’s a sign that you’re pushing into uncharted territory, an opportunity to learn or move forward.