May 2014

Self Defense Training in Martial Arts Schools Must be Realistic

One of the main reasons, if not the main reason, that people take up martial arts is for self defense. Although some statistics of 10 years ago indicated that the main reason was for confidence building. It is more than reasonable to relate confidence building to the ability to look after yourself, or self defense.  And although I could not source the original study, that gave the aforementioned result, it would be interesting to see the questions that gave the results as all statistical surveys are subject to bias as a result of the wording of the questions and the demographic surveyed.

However, another recent survey asking the question of why people had given up martial arts training indicated that the main reason for giving up was a lack of real world self defense training.

Certainly in my experience self defense is a major reason that students start martial arts training. The ability to look after yourself and the skills that you develop learning martial arts all contribute to building greater confidence and an enhancement of your lifestyle.

Fitness, which is another factor that people give as a reason for training, is another reason that is solely dependant on the amount of training and the intensity of the training. Many martial arts approach training from a very low intensity point of view and although fitness of the general coordination and flexibility attributes may be improved, there is little gain from the intense cardiovascular point of view.

There are many levels of fitness and what may be considered a good fitness level for one individual may be quite different for another. The fitness level generally cared for in most martial arts schools is a moderate level that provides a good fitness level for the majority of students that wish to have a healthy level of fitness. This will, in turn provide a definite lift in confidence and well being overall.

However, it must be kept in mind that the main underlying reason for the majority of people who leave martial arts training after a short period is the lack of real world self defense training. Therefore what ever your discipline is you must, unless you are particularly focused on sport and competition, teach realistic street self defense as part of your curriculum.

The key word here is “realistic” not a method necessarily based on the techniques of your discipline as these may well be too restrictive. For example, if you teach Tae kwon do then you must address the close range and ground aspects of real life street defense. I don’t care what the hardcore supporters of this discipline say; the reality is that Tae kwon do teaching focuses on a long range, standup striking approach to fighting.

Their ability at close range and on the ground is extremely poor and this is where most street fighting and self defense combat occurs.  The same situation can be also said of the current focus of many Brazilian Jiu Jitsu schools. Their focus has turned to gi competition with lots of complex sweeps and moves. Many of which are either unworkable or would get you wasted in the street.

In addition, when it comes to the street a lot of attackers will use knives or other tools such as tire irons and baseball bats or worse; guns. These are completely out of the realm of your regular martial arts school training which focuses on unarmed tactics.

Finally there is the element of adrenal stress response that is responsible for the freeze/fight/flight response which is a critical factor in all real street fight confrontations.

This is an element very poorly understood by most martial arts instructors and is lacking in the majority of self defense teachings in martial arts schools. It requires specialist training and drills to prepare a student

Experience in martial arts and real world situations is the key, together with a realistic approach that includes adrenal stress training, such as the N.A.S.T.I.  self defense  course offered at the Academy of Combat Christchurch Martial Arts school  and for realistic street proven techniques for self defense check out my No B.S. Street-fighting and Self Defense Guide.

Thoughts On Teaching Children Martial Arts.

From my experience, as chief instructor, of the Academy of Combat Mixed Martial Arts school and in particular as an active instructor of children at the school, the majority of parents bring their kids to martial arts to develop their confidence, focus and concentration  and provide them with a physical sport that develops their coordination, balance and strength.  Martial arts training provides all of these attributes in a very powerful and fulfilling way.

As with adults the focus of the school tends to act as a filtering process, eliminating many young students at the beginning because they cannot exhibit a level of the above mentioned attributes that suits the school, instructor or way of teaching. However, this defeats the purpose and intent of why these kids came to learn martial arts in the first place.

Once again we find this paradox between the main expectations that a parent has bringing the child to learn martial arts, which has often been made as a result of the marketing by the school, and the actual way the child is expected to respond on initially undertaking the martial art.

In most cases, schools really only cater to enhance the attributes, to higher levels of a baseline that is set at the beginning, if the child passes the test they continue, otherwise they leave. This goes against the very ideal of what we as martial arts instructors should be trying to achieve; the development of all potential students that come to us.

It is especially pronounced as the ages get younger. We as instructors must learn to work with the mentality of the age group, not an expected mentality that is in most cases derived from our own expectations from our adult students.

Kids want to play and enjoy their training, one only has to ask them at the end of a session what they enjoyed the most about the session and I can guarantee that it won’t be some new technique; it will almost always be a game related section of training.

This requires that martial arts school develop suitable curriculums and teaching methods which, I suggest, would be best implemented with a class streaming system that separates and caters for different learning rates of students. The belt grading system aids in this but is by no means entirely suitable. In order to encourage and nurture students’ learning they must be trained at a level that will promote learning and progress, therefore allowing some students to train with students of a higher level may well assist in this. At my Academy of Combat Mixed Martial Arts school I have implemented this type of class structure at all levels of training with both adults and children’s martial arts classes in all disciplines with very encouraging results.

By developing a balance of technique, attribute development drills and skill based games performed at a level that suits the age group the benefits of the martial arts can be realized by all students at all ages. And if they develop through the early stages of training, at an early age, enjoying their training, they are more likely to continue on and develop higher levels of skill all the way into adulthood.

The Difference that a Good Coach Makes.

One of the major effects of the current internet availability of information, particularly video, is the acquisition of knowledge that is shared.

This, together with the ease of travel about the globe, has lead to an incredible growth in most areas of human endeavor.

The martial arts have certainly undergone a huge surge in knowledge and development with the emergence of BJJ and MMA combined with a growth of, and more readily accessible, Muay Thai information and instruction.

However, it must be used properly to obtain best results.

It is a resource that parallels the earlier means of information storage and dissemination, books and as a resource it is best used together with a competent teacher or coach.

I am frequently approached by students who either want me to teach them something, or try to make something work for them, that they saw on Youtube.

While it is great that they are so enthusiastic about their game that they seek out information, it brings to my attention the problems that it sometimes may cause with a student’s training and development, if he/she does not handle it correctly.

As mentioned it is a valuable resource and should act as a guide. It cannot replace a good coach being present and teaching hands on.

Another rather unfortunate effect, of this readily available information, has been the emergence of training schools that use this as their resource of knowledge, and have little if any connection to qualified coaches.

The coaches teaching at these schools are teaching students with either low rankings, in a system, or in some cases none at all.

Another effect is that this type of practice downgrades the value of a good coach, who can cut the amount of time to obtain proficiency markedly, and produce high quality students that are well rounded and technically very strong.

A great example of the value of a good coach may play in a students development presented itself last week at my school. Within a period of 2 days I was asked on 2 separate occasions, by 2 different students, how to apply a particular no-gi choke that they had seen on Youtube, but just could not get to work. It had been demonstrated by a very proficient grappler and in great detail but they just could not get it to work correctly.

I had them both execute the choke on me and immediately identified the problem. Again it was the same problem in both cases and once I remedied it and added an extra small detail as well, to further improve the set up, they were able to execute the choke effectively every time.

That is value of a good coach and I have come across this same thing many times in my career as a professional martial arts instructor. Having the resource of an experienced and knowledgeable coach will greatly increase your ability and enjoyment of the martial arts, faster and more safely.

The ultimate way to do this is to take private instruction, in addition to your regular training. This is routine in most areas of human endeavor, overseas particularly if a student wishes to perform at the highest levels of accomplishment. However, here in New Zealand particularly, and in the martial arts it is very rare. However, in Australia, USA and many other regions of the world it is common place.

One only has to compare the number and quality of athletes that the USA has compared with NZ to see the value of having good coaches that are paid their worth and the use of private coaching by athletes in their development, compared with the worn out, cliché pitched, results of the “she’ll be right”, “no. 8 wire”, DIY type mentality of the NZ people. It is outdated and is a mentality that has to be changed if we are to seriously position ourselves in the global economy.