Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Putting the Pieces Together

Last week I taught a two-day course in Germany. It was a law-enforcement-only course and consisted of one day of handgun tactics and one day of basic MBC skills.

For those of you who have not seen my approach to handgun tactics, it is based on a foundation of understanding and accepting the concepts of point shooting as taught by the late Col. Rex Applegate, one of my mentors. Based on those fundamental concepts and additional skills and principles I learned from other close-combat greats like the late Jim Cirillo, I then analyze the advantages and disadvantages of Col. Applegate's traditional approach and create a system that retains the core understanding of point shooting while putting it into perspective with modern methods.

One element that the Germans were very surprised to see was my emphasis on a close-quarter guard position as a default during the draw. I cited the FBI statistics as far as the distances involved in typical gunfights, took a poll of the right-handed folks in the room (100% of a group of about 16), and explained that guarding the most likely target of a right-handed attacker (your zone 1) made a lot of sense. After giving them a live-fire taste of the traditional Fairbairn and Applegate methods, we worked through a series of drills that started with two-handed shooting from the Isosceles (to establish a comfort level), progressed through the shortened Isosceles (Jim Cirillo's "Geometric Point"), and finally to contact-distance shooting from the Guard/Retention Position. All shooting was done with the sights taped over. Although from a practical standpoint the progression should have gone the other way, since most German shooters do not spend much time shooting one handed and few of them ever shot from a retention position, I worked the other way for safety reasons.

After everyone understood my preferred flow of guard-draw-retention position-shortened iosceles-extended isosceles, we pulled out the blue guns and worked on both proactive and reactive weapon retention, emphasizing the function of the left arm as a guard and lever and the importance of turning the body as a unit to maintain muzzle discipline and maximize power. This was a first for most of them and they enjoyed it a lot. I also taught them some basic Counter-Blade Concepts (CBC) knife defenses and showed them how an initial empty-hand response should create an opportunity for drawing and shooting the handgun.

With all the building blocks in place, we then went back up to the line and put the pieces together. Since all the targets were mounted on the wall, there was no opportunity to use free-standing target stands for dynamic shooting at different distances. We also did not have the equipment for force-on-force drills. As such, we focused on combining the concepts of the blue-gun work with live-fire shooting. For example, a shooter would start at 90 degrees to the target, right shoulder facing it. On the "knife" command, he would simulate low-line hubud against a low angle 5 thrust, pivot to face the target, guard, draw,and shoot. Similarly, we practiced proactive defenses against attempted gun grabs, withdrawing from an extended-arms position to a weapon-retention position, turning to simulate a deflection or lever, and then turning back square to the target to fire. We combined this with simultaneous backward movement and extension of the arms to a full isosceles.

The primary form of feedback that I received on that day of training was that, for many of them, it was the first time they had done any contact-distance work. Those that had worked from contact distance before had never put together the solo practice of empty-hand movements with live-fire training. They were amazed with how much they got out of that process.

As I've mentioned in previous blogs, I get a lot of questions about solo training. Many people claim that they cannot train effectively because they don't have a partner. Many shooters also spend hours at the range and hundreds of dollars in ammo punching holes in paper without any realistic training benefit. ALL training starts with solo training. Identify your skill sets--from verbal commands through empty-hand tactics through less-lethal weapons and up to the use of firearms. Then create plausible scenarios in your head and figure out how to replicate them with the resources you have available.

Another great example of this concept that I included in a recent video shoot for "The Best Defense Season 2" was transition from a cane to a handgun. If you walk with/carry a cane, it is very likely to be your "go to" weapon. It may, however, not be enough to finish the fight. The next time you go to the range, set up a sturdy free-standing target and go through your cane technique, finishing with the knee/shin strike as taught in Martial Cane Concepts. Then, transition to drawing and shooting your pistol to incorporate the live-fire portion of your training. Transitioning from an improvised weapon (i.e. pen, kubotan, OC, or even a knife) can be done the same way.

If you're not at the range, focus on the hitting part of your initial response and then practice drawing a blue gun, airsoft, or even your gun equipped with a training barrel or snap caps.

In short, put the pieces together. Most organized training focuses on developing specific skill sets in isolation. Real situations aren't that clinical, so it's up to you to build strong bridges between your skills. Done properly, it also breathes new life into your training and enables you to make some quantum leaps in your skills by challenging yourself to perform dynamically.

Final word: When you make a mistake (not if; when), don't stop or start over to get it "right." Finish it. Even if the result is an ugly, half-assed goat-fuck of a technique, finish it. That will train you to finish it when you need to on the street.

Stay safe,


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

How Much is Too Much?

Since I taught my first public seminar in 1997, Martial Blade Concepts (MBC) and all the other parallel curricula I practice (empty-hand tactics, counter-weapon, stick, handgun, etc.) have evolved significantly—as they should. As I continue to learn and get exposed to new things, my approach to tactics changes. As my body changes with age, my tactics change as well. And, most importantly, as my understanding of what works, why it works, and how to make it work best grows and deepens, my tactics change.

Generally speaking, the changes that have occurred have been toward a more simplified, outcome-based approach that provides usable skills in the shortest possible time. The ability to trust and have confidence in a more finite skill set is fueled by a deeper understanding, as well as the communication skills to convey the logic of the system efficiently to allow others to share in that deeper understanding. Following the theme and explaining that in simpler terms, the message has gotten clearer and I’ve gotten better at conveying it.

So, with all that in mind, what should you focus on in your training? How much is too much? And when do I know when my “tool box” is full enough? To be honest, the only one who can answer those questions is you; however, the means for answering them is pretty straightforward: challenge yourself and be honest with your answers.

Let’s say you’ve done some training in the MBC curriculum—especially the curriculum as it is reflected in the most up-to-date expression of the system: the Martial Blade Concepts DVD. You know that the basic logic of the system is based on the concept of four Defensive Responses for four Zones of Defense, or 16 basic techniques. However, as explained in the video, the “go-to” tactics are more finite than that. They focus on passes or crossadas for angles 1 and 3 (assuming a right-handed attacker) and meets for 2 and 4. As such, that’s the way you practice and that’s where you choose to stop. When your training partner swings an angle 1 cut with a training knife, your crossada and your follow-up responses are swift, accurate, and reflect diligent training. That’s good.

To determine whether it’s good enough, put your training into context. Instead of a training knife, have your partner swing a padded stick about two feet long. Instead of the middle of the floor, put your back against the wall and then have him swing. Suddenly the world changes and your preferred response is no longer appropriate to the situation at hand. Quite literally, you don’t have enough tools in your toolbox.

This is a healthy and necessary process and one that we should all do regularly. It is more sensible and relevant than just amassing more tools.

Since the toolbox analogy is well known and widely understood, let’s expand upon that and look at another MBC concept: “Have a plan, and work your plan.” What that means is that, as much as possible, you want to have simple, multi-functional sequences of motion that—powered by an exceptional understanding of their physiological potential—can do many different things. Through training, you take a single sequence or a single technique and explore all the different things it can do in the broadest possible range of circumstances. You learn to use it defensively, offensively, against left handers, against right handers, on your feet, on your back, etc. Following the tool theme, you make your technique a Crescent wrench instead of a socket set. That way, no matter what sized “nut” you’re up against, you’ve got an appropriate tool for the job.

With all that said, there are some “one-off” techniques that are so good they belong in your toolbox—even if they disrupt the elegant logic of Four Defensive Responses/Four Zones of Defense. A perfect example is the Split-X defense against a low angle 5 thrust. It is an incredibly functional technique against a very common and exceedingly dangerous attack. Few tactics can equal its structure or function, so it remains an important skill in the MBC/CBC system. However, it is a skill that I chose to focus on only after having determined that the rest of the core skill set didn’t provide as good an answer.

More is not always better. As the saying goes, “You will fight the way you train.” As such, focus your training on the skills that will best serve you in a fight. Then validate those skills in realistic contexts. If they come up short, fill in the blanks with carefully chosen tools that provide as many additional functions as possible.

Train hard, stay safe.


Friday, October 2, 2009

I'm Back--Solo Training

First of all, I’d like to apologize for not posting in a while. Life has taken some interesting turns in the past few months and my priorities changed pretty radically. Although it’s a long story best told over many drinks (which stories aren’t?), in short, I pursued a business opportunity in the knife industry. In the process, I was betrayed and ended up losing two jobs within 2-1/2 weeks.

What does all that have to do with training? Well, while scrambling to adapt to the changes, there wasn’t much time for training—especially with my normal group of private students. To keep my head in the game, I played the game in my head. In other words, I used visualization and solo training as my primary form of practice.

In its basic form, solo training means doing the same things you’d do with a partner, but without a partner. I know that sounds pretty obvious, but it’s really that simple. If you’ve done any partner training, you have a base of experience to draw from. You know what an attack looks like coming in and you have a first-person reference as to what you did to react to it. Using that knowledge, your job is to create a vivid, realistic stimulus through visualization that replicates that experience with a partner.

The key to making this process work is developing a true understanding of the mechanics of your technique and relating them to your partner/attacker’s position. For example, let’s consider the first basic defense I teach in MBC: a pass against angle 1 attack. When your partner attacks with an angle 1 (let’s assume it’s right handed, so a high, right-handed forehand attack), your first response is to move back out of range by sliding your left foot back, then your right (again, assuming you’re right handed and in a right lead). As you do that, you should also counter by cutting with your own angle 1 to the inside of his wrist/forearm. His arm will continue past and your knife hand will also cross your centerline.

You are now looking at the back of his arm with your knife chambered for a backhand cut—either an angle 2 or 4. Slide your right foot forward to close the distance again and turn your hips and shoulders to your right. This will power a backhand cut to his triceps and, as you continue to rotate to your right, a check to the back of his arm with the back of your left forearm. Since your arm is short when it’s bent, you’ll need to close the distance further to make that check work, so as you extend it, step forward with your left foot, putting your whole body behind the check.

You are now chambered for a forehand angle 3. Step to your left with your left foot as you thrust low into the inside of his thigh. Drop your right elbow to your ribs to turn your hand palm up—the comma cut—and then rotate your hips to your left as you walk forward with your right foot.

If you were able to read and follow all that, you can also replicate the movements in solo training. First, isolate the footwork and practice it. Slide your left foot back, then your right to evade. Slide your right foot forward to close the distance, and then step forward with your left to close even further. Step out (to about 10 o’clock) with your left and then walk forward on that line with your right.

Work the footwork flow until it feels comfortable, and then add the cuts into it. Cut with a forehand angle 1 as you slide back, a backhand 2 as you slide forward, check with the left forearm as you step with your left foot, then step out with your left foot and thrust with the angle 3 to the thigh.

Once you have the basic mechanics integrated with the footwork, really visualize the targets you’re cutting and try to feel the cuts as part of your motion. Then, when everything is moving well together, visualize a faster, more intense attack and respond appropriately, upping the intensity of your movement to match.

Practice your solo responses to a specific angle until they become fluid. Then work on a different angle and build your skills the same way. Once you’ve worked through all the angles, imagine random attacks coming in at you and practice expressing your skills in a non-linear format. Anticipate likely follow-up attacks and chain your responses into combinations. Finally, imagine attacks from the flanks and learn to pivot and apply your skills in three dimensions.

Good solo practice keeps you training—even when you don’t have a partner—and it keeps your head in the game. It can also be both a therapeutic and empowering means of dealing with life’s stresses. When I was sitting across the table in negotiations with would-be employers who were actively breaking promises that affected me and my family, it was incredibly difficult NOT to jump out of the chair and do some “wall-to-wall counseling” on them. However, when I let my mind wander and considered the skills and the capability my training provides, I couldn’t help but smile. And the attitude behind that smile—that my hosts’ well-being was clearly contingent upon my restraint—enabled me to play the game better and ultimately win that battle.

So how did it all end up? Well, I am now very happy to be the Special Projects Coordinator for the Spyderco knife company of Golden, CO. I have carried and trusted Spyderco products for years and I am both proud and grateful to be a formal member of the Spyderco family. I am also relieved to know that I’m investing my personal integrity in a company that deserves it and shares the same commitment.

Train hard. Stay safe.


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Combatives is Something You Do TO Someone

Kelly McCann is one of the best instructors on the planet and I am extremely honored to have him as a friend. One of his most popular sayings is: "Martial arts is something you do WITH someone; combatives is something you do TO someone or ON someone." I've always liked that quote, but I never appreciated the brilliance of it until a recent seminar I taught up in Canada.

I was teaching a Counter-Blade Concepts (CBC--empty-hand vs. knife) seminar for a group that consisted exclusively of law enforcement officers, corrections officers, and security personnel. All of them were seasoned folks and many of them were defensive tactics instructors. A significant number of them were also experienced martial artists.

Everyone in the group was extremely motivated and trained very hard; however, I noticed that a number of them were having difficulty executing some of the techniques. In general, they commented that the techniques "weren't working" or that they couldn't get their partner into the right position to finish the technique. When I took a close look at what they were doing, I found that the vast majority of them were "working around" their partners. For example, if they were doing an armbar that would drive their partner into the prone position, they wer reaching up over the arm (leaving it in position) and trying to press down. Instead, they should have been pulling the arm down to a level where they were mechanically efficient and the "attacker" was off-balance. In simple terms, they were being too nice.

Once I realized what was happening, I explained the problem and took corrective action. First, I had everyone "walk through" the techniques, using a normal walking stride (our preferred footwork) to put full body weight and commitment into every technique. I also emphasized specific reference points for the completion of each technique or each phase of a technique. For example, an armbar is not an armbar until the attacker's wrist is anchored to your hip and your upper arm is vertical, applying pressure downward with your elbow.

Finally, I gave them specific "objectives" to achieve. Rather than taking someone to the ground with an armbar--a "generic" task--I told them to "touch the front of his shoulder to the mat." By picking specific points on the mat, I tuned their angles and soon they were dumping each other with ease--and great effect.

We are the good guys and will always be held to a higher standard. However, when someone has "defined the terms of our relationship" (one of my favorite quotes), you must play according to those terms--and play to win. Do what you need to do TO your attacker or ON your attacker and forget about the folks judging from behind a desk--and the ones who refuse to get off the couch.

Stay safe,


Monday, May 11, 2009

Big-Knife Training

I recently did some private training for a couple of students interested in big-knife tactics. During that process, I revisited the thought process that helped make MBC what it is today--a system that focuses on practical carry knives and their real capabilities. However, I was also reminded of the benefits of playing with large blades and the training advantages they offer.

Since you will fight with what you carry, I still firmly believe that your training blades MUST replicate your actual carry blades as much as possible. I've seen some practitioners train with special rigs containing multiple foot-long aluminum trainers. As a martial art, that's fine if that's your thing. As a means of developing usable self-defense skill that translates to your actual carry knives, it's way off base.

By training with tools that replicate your carry knives, you can integrate all phases of your tactics into the training process--including initial empty-hand responses, draws, openings, and application of the blade with realistic tactics that are appropriate to the true capabilities of that knife (i.e. the "beheading" stroke with the Spyderco Delica won't work, no matter how cool it may seem). In my opinion, that's where the focus of your training should be.

However, that doesn't mean that big-knife stuff is all bad. Working with large knives does offer some significant benefits.

First of all, larger weapons force you to refine your angles of movement. With a small knife, you can be sloppy or imprecise and it's difficult to see. Big knives--especially barongs and machetes around 20-24 inches in length--really force you to focus on precise angles and the body mechanics necessary to support them. If the plane of motion of your arm and the plane of the blade do not coincide, you'll know it. To do that, and to swing a large knife effectively, you'll need to have good body mechanics and hip and shoulder rotation. Big blades bring that out and motivate you to tune those elements up, rather than just being lazy and swinging your arm.

Big blades also teach real edge awareness and wrist articulation. Anyone who really understands blade-to-blade contact (regardless of the flavor or origin) knows that you never want to hit edge to edge. Blocks should always be done with the flat or the back of the blade. To do that, you need to position your blade perfectly to make contact with the proper surface area. That skill takes the edge orientation you learn by cutting and refines it much further.

This skill set also transfers over to stick work. Many systems claim that their stick work "represents" edged-weapon work. They talk about the alignment of the knuckles and the fact that strikes with the stick represent cuts with a sword or similar weapon. That's great, until you start doing things like abaniko (fanning) strikes, which would focus exclusively on the sides of an edged weapon--unless you adjust your grip. Understanding the potential of the flats and back of a big knife is a tremendous advantage of large blade training and a skill set that separates real blade players from hobbyists. Once you can incorporate the use of the other blade surfaces as purposeful blocks, beats, and strikes, your skills and understanding will take a quantum leap. If you can't do that, you're stick fighting with a blade and your tactics will not effectively translate to an edged weapon.

If you really want to tune up your stick work, do all the same motions with a barong or similar style of training blade. Really try to maintain edge orientation for all your strikes. You'll find the wrist articulation and body mechanics necessary to do this will really tune up your stick work and make it much cleaner and more precise. This is another tremendous advantage of big-knife work in that it forces you to exercise extreme control in your motions--especially when working with a partner. Swinging an aluminum barong trainer around and making precise, light contact with a partner requires excellent skill and control. Without it, every touch is a ding or bruise (remember, your partner will eventually return the favor!). Go slowly, refine your skills and your control, and really feel what you're doing.

Once you've spent some time playing big knife, bring it back to reality and work with your carry knife again. Invariably you'll find that you'll be faster, smoother, and have better body mechanics. Like a baseball player swinging a weighted bat to warm up, the extra weight of the big knife serves as a form of resistance. Even if you never plan to carry or fight with a big knife, use it as a training method to make your small-knife skills even better.

Stay safe,


Friday, May 1, 2009

Welcome to the MBC Training Blog

Welcome to the MBC training blog!

The purpose of this blog is to provide a resource through which I can share tips, insights, and suggestions regarding all training related to MBC, CBC, and the related disciplines I teach and practice. In particular, I will focus on sharing experiences that I have when training with my private students and seminar training partners with the goal of helping readers enhance their own training efforts.

I'm confident that you don't care what kind of breakfast cereal I ate this morning or whether I mowed my lawn or not, so I'm not going to make this a personal blog. When I have something to share that is relevant to training, I'll post it here. When I don't, I won't waste anyone's time.

My goal is to offer new information and insights every week; however, my travel schedule and other commitments will undoubtedly affect that. Be patient, however. Good things come to those who wait...

Stay safe,

Michael Janich