Training methods are more important than techniques. With great training even relatively ineffective techniques can be made to work. But with poor training, excellent techniques will fail when you need them most. In fact, with poor training you probably won't even have a chance to attempt a technique.
So what is great training? It can be summed up by what Matt Thornton, founder of the Straight Blast Gym, named the I Method:
It's really as simple as that. There are particular ways to isolate and integrate various techniques, as we'll get into more below, but if you want to train to develop the most functional skills you must be using the I Method.
One of the worst elements of a real assault is the mental shock of being physically attacked. Even a moderate blow, shove, or grab can cause a person who has not experienced such contact to mentally freeze. Therefore, training must include sport style sparring in all areas, stand-up, clinch, and ground. It is absolutely essential that every self defense practitioner has experience hitting another person and getting hit, shoving another person and getting shoved, throwing, being thrown, and wrestling. This can and should be done safely, beginning with low intensity and only increasing speed and power as appropriate.
We do this through the MMA Base, which consists of boxing, Thai boxing, stand-up wrestling, and Brazilian jiu jitsu. You don't have to become a high level MMA fighter, but you do need to train against completely uncooperative opponents attempting to kick, punch, and wrestle with you. Otherwise, you will not be prepared for it if it happens on the street.
In addition to the MMA Base preparing you for contact, the delivery systems or styles used in MMA are highly efficient and effective bases from which to launch attacks. And, training in them will teach you to manipulate and control distance and position against an aggressive opponent.
Although MMA training is excellent, it may not prepare you for self defense. As highlighted in our section on violence, a serious predator will not attack you like a fighter. He'll attempt to take you by surprise. Awareness and prevention should be the first part of self defense, but beyond that you need certain skills, techniques, and the ability to use and defend against weapons, many of which are missing from MMA.
The techniques trained in combat sports, from boxing to Brazilian jiu jitsu, often aren't optimal for self defense. Of course there are some exceptions. But in boxing for example, punches are thrown with a closed fist. In self defense, without padded gloves, punches lead to broken hands more often than an unconscious opponent. The addition of eye strikes, groin kicks and slaps, hacks, and other techniques considered "dirty tactics" in sports, should be your primary techniques in real self defense.
These self defense techniques can and should be trained in the most realistic way possible. Eye strikes can be practiced with protective goggles. Groin slaps can be done wearing cups. Neck wrenches, chokes, and joint locks can be done to the point before damage occurs.
Most martial arts training areas are padded, well lit, and free of objects. Natural environments couldn't be more different! On the street you've got curbs, buildings with concrete corners and protruding edges, trees, cars, etc., etc. In rooms there is furniture everywhere. Self defense training must include training in these areas, along with the use of the environment. Learning to slam your opponent into objects and avoid getting slammed and tripping over objects is extremely important.
See my post on Active Shooter Scenarios for more on training in natural environments.
In a real attack, it's highly likely you'll experience an adrenaline dump. Your heart rate will shoot up, you'll lose fine motor skills, you may have tunnel vision and a loss of hearing, etc. The skills and techniques you've used in training may be seriously degraded.
Training methods that either create an adrenal response or mimic one will help a great deal in learning to operate in this state, and to show you what you can and can't do during one. While sport style training and competition can do this, there are particular drills, from scenario training to those that bring you to total exhaustion, that should be a part of self defense training.
You may be attacked by more than one opponent, thus you need to train for that possibility. While it's extremely difficult to fight multiple opponents with sport based rules, it can be done in a no rules environment, especially where weapons are allowed. A hard finger jab to the eye of one attacker, for example, can put him out of commission while you deal with the second. Training methods where you practice blasting through multiple opponents in order to run or get a better position are also a necessity.
In addition to unarmed training, self defense must include training in the use of and defense against weapons. See our weapons page for more detailed information. These days it's likely a real predator will have a weapon. Training to defend against blunt, sharp, and projectile weapons is essential. And because the use of weapons can give you a major advantage, learning to use weapons (including objects found in your environment) should not be neglected.
Every training method for self defense is necessarily lacking. The purpose of techniques is to take your opponent out. If you're not doing that in training, something is missing. But since we can't kill or injure our partner each training session, we remove realistic elements. We can remove speed and/or power, lowering intensity to prevent injury, wear protective gear, limit techniques to only those that won't do serious damage, "pull punches", etc.
Because each training method we use has a weakness, it's important to use a mix of methods so that every necessary element is trained. We can't strike our partners with full force, so we include pad drills to work on speed and power. It's unsafe to train defense against random attacks at full speed and power, so we use prearranged or scenario training to do that. The important thing is to identify the weak point in each training method and be sure you've got another that compensates for it.
Here are the different training phases along with the training methods used in each:
There is an introduction phase to every technique, where the mechanics of a technique are taught and the context and uses are explained to the practitioner. This phase is very short, typically a few minutes or less, and quickly progresses to the isolation phase.
The isolation phase is where a practitioner improves the mechanics and qualities of a technique and learns to apply it against an opponent. It can involve a variety of training methods including solo practice in the air or on pads/bags/shields, limited or prearranged drilling with a partner against a prearranged attack or response, and live training within a limited technical context. Isolation phase training is done forever, both to improve the execution of techniques and to increase qualities such as speed, power, and timing.
Below are various training methods that can be used in the isolation phase, with more information on the corresponding pages:
The integration phase is where a technique is integrated into "unlimited", live, random training. In the previous isolation phase techniques are practiced in limited sparring, so a practitioner should already understand and be able to apply techniques in a live situation. The primary difference between the isolation and integration phase is that in the integration phase all techniques and ranges are allowed.
There are two primary training methods in this phase: random flowing and sparring. In random flowing there is a level of cooperation, where practitioners are helping each other to learn with a level of give-and-take. Specific goals may be worked on. In sparring, practitioners are only indirectly helping each other to learn. The focus of sparring is on beating your opponent in live training.
For more information on sparring, see this post on How to Spar for Self Defense.
One of the most important training methods for self defense involves conditioning effective default responses to surprise attacks. Take a look at our self defense techniques section to see several examples of default responses and combinations. Your default response techniques need to work against a wide range of attacks, such that a counter ingrained subconsciously will work when you're not sure which particular attack is coming. This training is primarily done at the isolation stage, but the default responses can and should also be integrated into sparring.
Isolating a default response for repitition (in order to train it over and over again so that it becomes a conditioned response) is the primary method used here. By isolating a default response and using it against a particular attack, you can train it safely with full power, as your partner knows what to expect and how to deal with the response.
To integrate the default response into live sparring, you may have to either lower the intensity to avoid injury, or use protective gear.
Scenario training involves setting up a situation that mirrors a real assault. It's done in real environments with regular clothing and includes role playing so there is a designated attacker and designated victim. Although it is set up, if and when things get physical it should be live and "unlimited". Scenario training is a drill for the integration phase. Ideally, scenario training should involve at least 3 people. An instructor needs to design and set up the scenario and he or someone else should monitor how it goes down. There should be at least one attacker and one victim, and ideally a bystander or two that can be worked into the scenario.