Friday, June 25, 2010

When and Why to Change

Since my last blog entry, I’ve had the opportunity to train some very motivated students, including a group of law enforcement officers in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada (thanks to my good friend and MBC proponent Sean Carter) and the training officer for the UN peacekeeping forces in the Ivory Coast. In both instances, the students had taken the time to study my instructional DVDs prior to the training to develop an intellectual understanding of the material and its logic before tackling the physical training. Some of the Canadian officers had also trained with me previously and already had a strong foundation in the MBC/CBC method.
The second-most-interesting feedback I received from these students, who were focusing primarily on the CBC curriculum, was their recognition that some of the techniques I was now teaching were different than those shown in the videos and even different than what I taught last year. Although the concepts and fundamental principles of the system remained unchanged, the way they were expressed and the recommended “go-to” tactics had changed.
Logically, the first question asked was “Have you changed the way you do ____?” And, to their credit as MBC/CBC students, the next question posed was “Why?” In all cases, the answers to these two questions were exactly the same: “Yes” and “Because it’s easier for a beginner to learn and apply with a lower level of skill.”
In previous blog posts, I’ve addressed the fact that MBC/CBC are, by design, living, evolving systems that should change with time. The reason they should change is that my students and I continue to learn and expand our understanding of the skills we have now. We also strive to adapt those skills to new situations and emerging threats, a process that often serves as a catalyst for evolution and change.
The best reason for changing something, however, is when that new, improved version empowers students to become more capable sooner and with less training. When I teach, I actively look for student responses to my instruction. When the light bulbs go off and people “get it” quickly and reliably, I know that the material and my presentation are on target. When I get the puzzled, “mouth-breather” looks, I go back to the drawing board until I get it right—or at least “righter.”
For advanced students and folks who have already invested training time in the previous versions of the technique, the important thing to understand is that the new version doesn’t negate the old version; it just makes more sense as the first line of defense. If you can do a technique well, at speed, and under stress and make it work consistently, it works. It makes no sense to take that away from you when it is a reliable asset.
As a practitioner, adding the newer, simplified technique to your arsenal could still be a very good thing. Sure, it keeps your training fresh and gives you new material, but more importantly forces you to evaluate what works best for you. As always, it’s your ass on the line, so you must have confidence in the “go-to” techniques that you trust to defend your life.
Instructors have it a bit tougher. We have to know it all, have the capability to do it all, and have the ability to explain the “what” and “why” to the different students and audiences we serve. At that level, institutional knowledge of the entire system is a requirement. However, the ultimate goal for the students we serve is still to give them skills that fit their needs, their body types, and their physical attributes while maximizing their chances of surviving a critical incident. Again, if it works for you and you can make it work consistently under pressure, it works.
When should you change? When the “why” makes sense to you and fits your personal needs and physical attributes. When something is more logical than what you’re doing now, provides greater flexibility and efficiency, and allows you to do more with less, it’s time to evolve. If what you’re doing works for you and you don't have any gaping holes in your skill set, that’s fine. As we say in MBC, “It’s not wrong; it’s different.”
How liberating is that?

Stay safe,


P.S. If you were reading carefully, you may have noticed that I mentioned the “second-most-interesting” feedback. So what was the most interesting? According to my Canadian host, two of his students—one law enforcement officer and one civilian—had successfully applied CBC tactics since my visit last year. In both cases, he credited their survival to the sound principles and concepts of CBC training. As founder and lead instructor of the system, I couldn’t be more honored or grateful to hear that news.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

"Technical Sparring" Defined

In a previous blog entry, I discussed the advantages and disadvantages of sparring as it applies to self-defense. Based on that post, I received the following question:

"Could you expand on the explanation,definition and how to perform what you referred to as 'Technical Sparring.'

"Technical sparring" is a term used by the first martial art I studied, American Self-Protection or ASP. ASP was a modern martial art that drew from the principles of the arts studied by its founder, Evan S. Baltazzi. Those arts included aikido, judo, Savate, and boxing. The art was highly structured and followed a progression of belt ranks. Each rank progression involved learning a series of self-defense techniques and demonstrating higher levels of proficiency in other skill sets.

In addition to practicing the techniques with an individual partner, ASP also incorporated a more dynamic method of training called "technical sparring." At its basic level, this consisted of a "monkey in the middle" style of technique practice. One person would get in the middle of the mat, surrounded by the rest of the class. Based on that person's level of knowledge and experience, the other class members would attack one by one to allow the "monkey" to practice his/her techniques in a random manner.

Initially, this process was very controlled to allow the monkey time to recognize and react to the attacks, which were thrown from predictable angles. As a student got more experienced, the intensity of the attacks increased, the interval between each attack decreased, and the angles of attack got more dynamic. Since the techniques for higher level belts included defenses against various weapons, the introduction of training knives, sticks, and guns also increased the stress. While beginners might spend three minutes in the middle, advanced students were required to go for 5-10 minutes per session.

As the tempo and dynamics of the method increased, we also began to "free form" a bit, incorporating attacks outside the rote technique of the system, having 2-3 attackers close simultaneously, and attacking with weapons other than those typically included in the standard techniques of the art. We also took cheap shots. If the monkey fell down, we'd close in and kick or try to mount. Ultimately, it became a pretty realistic, very intense training method that was very challenging and, by nature, incorporated many elements of defending against multiple attackers.

Why was/is technical sparring good? First of all, it evokes an adrenalized state more readily than training with a single partner. Performance anxiety is high, as is the level of physical exertion. That makes for good training.

Secondly, it provides a random, reasonably unpredictable series of stimuli that force you to respond reflexively. Since you don't know that you're practicing a defense against a right punch until the punch is coming, you have to react, not just "do" a technique that you know your partner will throw.

Most importantly, the technical sparring format forces you to finish every clash like an individual fight and then immediately prepare for another attack. Unlike the interminable game of tag of competitive sparring, you get out of the habit of "hit and assess" and focus on "hit and finish." That doesn't mean you can't get "proactive" and preempt an attack--you certainly can. However, everything you do is focused on taking your attacker(s) out of the fight decisively, not scoring points.

Technical sparring is a very cool training method. It takes discipline and control on both sides of the equation to make it work, but it's certainly worth adding to your training regimen.

Stay safe,