As with my last two posts, this one has also been prompted by emails from visitors/subscribers.  Over the last two days I’ve gotten three emails from people asking about learning self defense without a partner, and it’s a question I get at least once a week.

The fact is, you cannot learn physical self defense without a partner.

I often tell people it’s like trying to learn to swim without water, or trying to play a guitar without a guitar.  You cannot learn to defend against an attack without the actual attack.  The techniques you use in physical self defense do not exist in isolation.  They exist as a response to a complex threat and/or a complex attack, involving a host of physical, verbal, environmental, and legal considerations, to mention just a few.

What About WW2 Comabtives?

Someone who emailed yesterday wrote back that WW2 Combatives taught by Damion Ross are different, because they are self offense instead of self defense.  He also wrote: “Combatives is something you do to someone……marital arts is something you do with someone and that’s a big difference.”  And, “When it comes to self defense, partner training is of benefit but marginally…hitting things is far more important.”

I’m not writing this to pick on the guy who emailed me.  I’m writing this because what he is saying is a commonly held misconception, promoted by people trying to make quick money selling BS self defense videos.

Fortunately, the Combatives Wikipedia page has it right, under the Modern Army Combatives section:

The regimen is focused on teaching soldiers how to train rather than attempting to give them the perfect techniques for any given situation. The main idea is that all real ability is developed after the initial training and only if training becomes routine.

(When I say that most WW2 Combatives are a scam, I’m talking about the systems that focus on a few “killer” techniques that you practice over and over again on a dummy or on a cooperative opponent.  This is unfortunately most of what I have seen in terms of what is marketed as Combatives.)  The problem is, techniques don’t make self defense.  Training does.  And training absolutely, necessarily, requires a partner.  But what about Combatives where you learn self offense?  What about if you nail your opponent first?  That only happens in prearranged, contrived videos and training scenarios.  It’s hard to know where to even begin to address this…

The Approach/Interview

First, an attacker and his chosen victim do not exist in a vacuum.  They exist in a real environment.  An attacker will not magically appear, standing still in front of his “victim”, waiting for his victim to take him out.  He’s also highly unlikely to approach his victim in an outwardly obvious way, and stand there waiting to get chopped in the clavicle (a pretty bad choice, anyway).  Any half decent attacker is going to either attack his victim by surprise, or approach in a socially acceptable way, gaining control before the victim even realizes what’s happening.  This is much, much easier than most people think, and many attackers are very good at it.  IF the chosen victim does realize what’s going on (see my prevention page for details on how to do that), there is still going to be uncertainty.  Is the threat really going to attack?  Is an offensive technique justifiable?

The threat is likely to be moving.  He’s likely to be putting his hand out for you to shake (and the vast majority of people will instinctively reach out to reciprocate), putting his hand on your shoulder, or making some other socially acceptable movement.  There may be other people around, and other distractions.  The threat will likely be talking to you, asking you questions, making it difficult for your brain to focus on an attack.

An offensive technique is the last, easiest part of self defense.  The difficult part about self defense is not the physical technique.  A 6 year old girl can be taught to smack someone in the balls or poke someone in the eye.  But that same 6 year old girl isn’t going to have a chance against a real attacker, because a real self defense situation involves MUCH more than some awesome technique you have perfected alone in the air, or on a training dummy, or on a cooperative partner.

The Importance of Uncooperative Training

And this is where today’s military, and the Wikipedia Combatives page have it right…it’s the training that provides skill in self defense.  That’s why the military is having people train Brazillian Jiu Jitsu, despite the fact that BJJ isn’t the best self defense system, by a long shot.  But it is a great system for learning to deal with an uncooperative opponent.  This is why I emphasize the MMA Base as the first and most fundamental part of training.

Techniques are important.  They’re very important.  There are many, many ways to do something wrong, in a way that unnecessarily exposes you to your opponent’s counter attack, etc.  Strategy is also extremely important.  These three components of self defense, techniques, training, and strategy, are like a three legged stool.  Without any one of them, the stool will fall.  Without any one of them, physical self defense is likely to fail.

So the problem with the idea that all you need is a few deadly techniques is BS.  You have to train being approached by a threat who is talking to you, who is coming up to shake your hand, etc.  You have to train situations where you don’t know what he is going to do, and you don’t know what you are going to do.  Because that’s what real self defense will be like.  Sometimes your opponent will shake your hand and move on.  And nothing happens.  Sometimes he’ll walk up and “sucker punch” you.  Sometimes he’ll try to talk to you first, and invade your space.  Most of the time, you cannot morally or legally attack first.  It’s a tricky place to be.  And you cannot train it without a partner.

Next…what happens when you try your perfect technique and your opponent blocks it?  What happens when he attacks at the same time?  What happens when it just doesn’t work?  People move!  No one is going to stand there and let you chop them in the throat!  No one is going to stand still and let you land the perfect palm strike on the chin.  When you move, your opponent is going to move.  You may THINK you can nail your opponent before he even tries to move out of the way.  And maybe you will get lucky.  But maybe you won’t.  It takes serious training with an uncooperative partner to learn when to attack, how to attack, what to do if your opponent defends against the attack, what to do if he counters, etc., etc..

It may be unfortunate, but it is what it is.  You cannot learn physical self defense without a partner.  If you want to learn physical self defense and you don’t have a training partner, your first step must be to find a partner.  I hope this settles it.

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