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Evaluating Drills—Part 2

by Rory Miller, October 31, 2016

I get especially annoyed with weapons. Unarmed defense against a weapon sucks. Never, ever, ever practice dying and do not train to be killed. The stakes are too high to blindly imprint a habit, even a habit as simple as handing a weapon back once you have disarmed someone.

If the drill requires you to miss or to give up control of a weapon or to give up a good position to transition to one that may or may not be better or any other stupid thing that could get you killed . . . it is a bad drill.

Let me be clear. There is no way to exactly replicate breaking people without breaking them. In unarmed arts, with no weapon to "make safe" the techniques themselves have been altered. Unless the students and teachers are very aware, this alteration becomes the "right" way to do the technique.

Look for these:

1) When the drill sets an unrealistic expectation of what an attack will be like, such as practicing against long range, slow knife thrusts when we know that shankings happen close, quickly and from the side.

2) When the drill allows techniques that would be unsafe or crippling for the person using them in real life.  It used to be a common story in fencing that the lunge was a modern invention.  It wasn't that the old duelists hadn't thought of lunging; it turns out that on wet grass, the lunge is a damn good way to tear out your groin muscles.
The MMA competitor who tries a shoot on concrete and breaks his patella.

3) Most damning, when the solution to the drill is based on the flaw, such as using medium speed defenses to defeat slow motion attacks.

Coming from a Western background for weapons arts, I was taught that every student comes to training with the three worst habits in weapon fighting: They stay out of range, they aim at the opposing weapon instead of the opponent and their rhythms are predictable. I was taught that these were the absolute worst habits with a weapon. And we always blamed the choreographed sword fights on television for these flaws.

So I refuse to do siniwalli, a Filipino figure-eight pattern partner drill). Every last aspect of it is a bad habit.

It is practiced from out of range. If I can only hit his weapon, not him, I don't swing. Striking a weapon is rarely a good idea unless you are sure you have a superior weapon . . . and if someone wants to swing while you are out of range, let him.

It works in long sweeps, high/low, when the impact in the middle could be ridden to give a harder, faster strike to a better target.

It is predictable and there are few surer ways to be destroyed than to be the most predictable one in a fight.

Even the vaunted rhythm training: So what? Rhythm is no advantage whatsoever in an assault. Assaults are brutal, staccato—the only place for flow is in the loser's blood. But the drill is safe. And entertaining. And makes some students feel like they are gaining a valuable skill. They are certainly ingraining something.

Training and Conditioning

Instructors must know the difference between training and conditioning. I don't use conditioning here to mean strength and endurance training. Conditioning in the sense that behavioral psychology uses the term.

Both are types of teaching, getting information into a brain with the goal of affecting (and ideally improving) performance. Training is where most instructors spend most of their conscious time. When you are teaching students what to do for punches, or how to kick or how to scissor legs to roll to a mount, you are training.

Conditioning happens at a deeper level of the brain. It is rarely conscious for the instructor or the student. The hindbrain sees what works and what doesn't and reinforces the habits that work. What you train may or may not come out in a fight. What you condition will, good or bad.

If you practice high-speed multiple opponent scenarios, you are training some very good things: continuous movement, the geometry of multiple opponents, how to use people as environmental weapons, exploiting momentum, elements of timing and tactical thinking.
But (unless you are using armor, and even then . . .) for safety, you are probably limiting contact. You are learning good things. You are conditioning not hitting. Conditioning goes deeper than learning.

Many good Japanese jujutsu schools practice free randori that is essentially no-holds-barred, but limited contact. They learn to integrate offense and defense, to use strikes, locks, gouges, takedowns and grappling as extensions of each other . . .

But the hindbrain notices that strikes (controlled contact) never end a match. Only submissions. Conditioning the students to favor grappling.

Last example: In noncontact schools, if someone makes face contact, everything stops and the student apologizes. The conditioning is that hitting people in the face is wrong. If hitting people in the head is a core of the system, conditioning comes into direct conflict with training. Almost always, when the rubber meets the road, conditioning, not training, rises to the surface.

Contrast that with a school that trains even a focus mitt drill where the partner tags the student and the student unleashes a flurry of aggressive, forward pressure strikes. That conditioning is in line with training.

As an instructor, it is your responsibility to evaluate your drills and keep an eye out for any accidental conditioning.

The above is Part 2 of "Evaluating Drills," an excerpt from Training for Sudden Violence 72 Drills by Rory Miller.  See Part 1 on October 23, 2016, for the beginning of this excerpt.

Rory Miller has served for seventeen years in corrections as an officer and sergeant working maximum security, booking and mental health; leading a tactical team; and teaching subjects ranging from Defensive Tactics and Use of Force to First Aid and Crisis Communications with the Mentally Ill.


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