In order to learn physical self defense, you must train against uncooperative opponents. It’s not enough to practice alone. It’s not enough to practice prearranged drills with a cooperative partner. And it’s also not enough to train against a partner who only resists.
Unfortunately, many people don’t get the difference between resistance and “uncooperativeness”, so I’m going to take a few pictures from the training section of my book and post them here as an illustration:
In the images above, my partner does not resist the elbow lock, and he is entirely cooperative. He lets me get the lock, and pressure him down. Now, here is an example of resistance:
In the image above, when I try to get the elbow lock on my partner, he resists. He bends his elbow and changes the angle, making it difficult for me to get the lock. But this is not the same as being entirely uncooperative. Here is one example of being entirely uncooperative:
This time, when I attempt the elbow lock, my partner not only resists the lock, but he also turns and punches me in the face.
In a real physical self defense situation, your opponent is going to both resist and be uncooperative. He may punch you, shove you, attempt to run away, or do something completely unexpected. But he will not allow you to do what you want with him.
Whatever system you train, if you want to be able to use it against a real opponent, you must make sure your partner is both resisting and uncooperative. If you’re working on a technique or combination of techniques, tell your partner: don’t let me do this. Tell him/her to do whatever it takes to stop you from succeeding. Otherwise, you won’t be prepared to deal with a real opponent.
For people who practice sport based styles or MMA, this post will be completely unnecessary, since sport based styles always train with both resistance and uncooperativeness. But for many traditional martial artists, the images above should be eye opening.
Note: All training doesn’t need to be, and shouldn’t be, uncooperative. When a new technique is being learned, or when a practitioner is drilling a technique for repetition to increase some skill or quality (speed, power, structure, timing, etc.), it’s necessary to train in a cooperative environment. But, every technique must also be trained against an uncooperative partner, in order to learn to realistically apply it.
For more on functional training, see my training page here.
EDIT: After one of the comments below, I thought I’d add this video, with a similar message: