As always, when something hits big, everyone wants a piece of the pie. Take a look at Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). I remember, when MMA first went big, every single gym in my hometown opened up a program. They all wanted a piece of the pie, even if the instructor had no clue how to run an MMA program. If people from a bandwagon gym kept losing, then the gym would have no choice but to shut down or stop offering the program, as no one would want to sign up at a gym that had no wins. In reality based self defines, it is far more difficult to cut through the crap, as it comes under fire very rarely – when people are attacked – and there are plenty of ways to retain people even if the product is terrible. The point of this blog post is to educate you on what to look for when looking for realistic training.
Do you wear shoes, or are you barefoot?
I don’t know about you, but when I’m interacting with strangers, I’m usually wearing shoes. Since most violence is socially based, or starts outside the home, you will most likely have footwear on. If you are used to training barefoot, and you happen to be wearing boots or high heels when things go wrong, you may be in for a surprise.
Do you bow to your coach, or have to use an obscure title?
Respecting where you train and what you’re learning is a fantastic thing, but being forced to bow to a person and allow them to dominate you based on a made-up rank is not reality based training. If you are taught that a person can beat you because a title says so, how can you be expected to stand up to an angry boss, or to a respected member of the community if they happen to attack you? You should respect your coach because he or she earned it with you, and you alone, and you should always be trying to one up them. Remember that a good coach will praise you for improving, and never punish you for embarrassing them.
Do you spar?
Sparring is a fantastic way to test your skills, work range and timing. I am in no way against sparring – it’s great fight training – but what you should be training in is self defence. Fighting and self defence are two very, very different things. Sparring works you out at an unrealistic distance (see the article on the four basic truths of violent assault). What you should be training in is counter-assault and escape from random angles. Real assaults don’t have give and take like sparring does – it is about gaining control and the resolving, and should be ended as fast as possible, and not when a buzzer goes off.
Are you dealing with modern day and local attack methods?
Many reality based instructors like to pick on traditional arts (even though you all have a gi in your closets – don’t lie). The truth about traditional arts is that what they are teaching was the best system for their time, situation and environment. Do you think karate would have used empty hand techniques and farm weapons if they were allowed to have swords? Hell no. Your system should be addressing the most common methods of attack in your region. How common are machete attacks in Canada if you’re not in a gang, compared to someplace like Sudan? You should adjust your training accordingly. Martial arts were always designed to fit their environment, and your defensive system should do the same.
Do you talk about the law?
The law is a huge factor that many instructors completely disregard. Violence does not happen with the absence of consequences. You should be fully versed in self defines law. Far too many schools teach a super secret military art on how to kill people. Sorry, Commando McKillington, but if you kill a guy in a bar fight over a spilt beer, you’re going straight to jail. You should know what your rights are, and where to draw the line, so that you can keep providing for yourself and your loved ones.
Do you practice to escape, evade or de-escalate?
One of my favourite sayings as of late (and I forget who I stole it from), is “it is better to vaccinate than to cure”. The best victory is the one in which you have your brain over your brawn. Too many schools focus only on what happens after things have already gone wrong. What you should be asking yourself (and your coach) is “how did I get into this situation?”, “why is his knife out?” and “how did he get so close to me?” If you are only practicing from after the fact, then you are missing a huge piece of the self defence puzzle.
Are adrenaline responses discussed?
Does your coach talk about what is going to happen to you when you get the chemical dump that happens when you are about to engage in combat? Do they discuss what to notice in someone else to see if they are getting the dump, or under the influence of adrenaline? These are huge factors. Both you and your attacker will be experiencing an adrenal response. The issue is that they will probably have theirs under control just when you are starting to gain your bearings.
Do they take environment into account?
I can pretty much guarantee that if you ever get into a violent situation, you will not be on mats in a wide open space. One of my first major eye-openers as a martial artist-turned-doorman was the fact that I had almost no room to work in, and that many of my skills were useless unless I was in my dojang or in a tournament. You should be thinking about being in a non “ready position” when dealing with self defence. Your toolkit should work when sitting, lying down, on stairs, in a hallway, on an airplane, or in any other environment you may end up in. I cannot tell you the amount of times that spilt beer has messed up my entire day.
This list is just the meat of what you should be looking for if reality based training is your goal. Cookie-cutter systems don’t work – in real life, you need a program that will help you deal with your situation, no matter what it may be. They key is that reality based self defines should be just that – based in reality. If your training is not based in the present, not based on the common types of attack that happen in your area, and if you are not training in gear similar to what you wear every day, then you are not getting what you paid for. If what you are training makes no sense to you, and you don’t know why you’re doing it – ask. The job of your coach is to explain to you why it’s relevant. Never let an “expert” make you feel bad for using your own brain, because when things go wrong, they won’t be there – you will.