Mick Coup: Traditional Training Methods Still Rule

This is an article written by Mick Coup. It was originally published on his Core Concepts Forum, but he has kindly given his permission to have it republished here. It’s a great article and full of Mick’s usual brand of no bullshit wisdom and solid training advice. Enjoy, and if you have any comments, please them below or on the Facebook page.

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I’m a huge believer in traditional training practices – and all the truly effective training I have ever seen is traditional in approach believe it or not, no matter how ‘modern’ it purports to be. Unfortunately the mere word ‘traditional’ seems enough to send most ‘progressive’ types into shock – yet a great deal of them, the ones that get the best results anyway, are a lot closer to using these so-called ‘outdated’ methods than they believe.


Defining Traditional

Before getting into the meat of this article, let’s establish exactly what I mean by the term ‘traditional’ lest there be any misunderstanding. It’s actually easier to define what ‘traditional’ isn’t – I feel that when many people hear the ‘T’ word they think of highly stylised and historically-orientated methods, which I feel is more accurately described as being ‘Classical’ in nature as opposed to ‘Traditional’.

Traditional systems and methods, as I understand them, originated for a definite purpose, and when we compare them to our ‘modern’ efforts it must be considered that they were just as ‘modern’ in their day and possibly more practical due to their immediate requirements. Give what we do now a few decades to evolve and it will become traditional compared to future approaches will it not?

I’m guessing it will, so where is the actual benchmark? It obviously has little to do with time/date issues if the above is taken into account – that term would be ‘vintage’ I suppose – so what defines this traditional approach that I put so much stock into?

In a word – basics. Building foundations is the primary task, above all else – the majority of work is channelled into the perfection of the underlying core skills, the essentials that support all future endeavours. This to me epitomises the traditional approach, the repetition and constant drilling of the primary tools and skills, and – wait for it – everything is progressive in nature, structured and organised, each component building on the last in an integrated fashion.

Before I’m swamped with critics claiming how ineffective various traditional styles are, especially when compared to their ultra-modern ‘combative super-system’ (I actually teach one of these myself, so there is no bias here!) just bear in mind that truly traditional systems work – that’s what they were designed to do – it’s the ones that have become ‘classical’ that lose effectiveness, through becoming over-stylised and aesthetic.

Ultimately it’s all about application in context, and about how the training is conducted, and finally about the person. If all three are on-track, everything will be effective – if not, then nothing – even the high-speed modern stuff – will fail.


Towers And Bunkers

The title of this piece? Not an attempt to be cryptic I assure you, but rather a parallel that can be drawn to illustrate my point – using the construction industry as an abstract analogy.

I prefer not to build upwards in all truth, but to dig deeper in the same spot. Once I have a basic structure that suits my needs and requirements in place, then I want to concentrate on the footings, the foundations – not add rooms I’ll rarely use or decorate the place to make it look nice!

Everything to me is about function, the form is a by-product – have you ever seen an old Naval cutlass, a heavy plain blade with basic fittings? Nothing about it has anything to do with looking nice, just so long as it is manageable and durable in combat – the ornamentation is absent, it’s designed to kill human beings with – nothing more. When it was no longer used for this purpose, replaced by firearms, it became beautiful, decorated and stylised to be pleasing to the eye – a modern officer’s dress sword will still be bad for you if it runs you through, no doubt, but nothing like it used to be!

Sticking with the firearms subject for a little while, definite parallels can be drawn between ultra-modern ‘high-speed’ firearms training and traditional martial arts – again all hinging around the basic skills and the disproportionate attention that they should receive, compared to the more ‘advanced’ techniques.

I come from a military background predominantly, and I recall basic weapons training being a real anti-climax after all I’d anticipated – I’m from the UK and didn’t grow up around guns, apart from what I saw on TV anyhow so I wasn’t expecting what seemed to be so exciting turn out to be boring, or so it felt at the time!

Spending hours in the classroom, everyday for weeks on end just going through the motions – by rote – of handling and loading, making ready, making safe, unloading, stripping and assembling, clearing malfunctions, etc etc before going anywhere near a shooting range – what was all that about? When we were finally deemed competant enough to shoot real bullets, we only got five at a time, and practiced getting the holes in the target as close together as possible, lying in a comfortable position with a convenient sandbag for support – nothing more exciting than that!

Still the classroom lessons continued, learning how to transfer the basic skills from one weapon to another, using universal concepts that seemed more obvious the more we understood them, and this was the light-switch right there – understanding. Once you knew why something was happening, everything just slotted into place – no longer were you trying to remember, always one step behind – now you were doing the thing on your own. This was only possible because we started slow, worked progressively and concentrated on mastering the basics above all else. This all progressed into the ‘high speed’ exciting stuff I’d initially expected – but only when we’d done enough of the basics, and the intermediate, to enable us to not only perform the advanced material but actually get something out of it.

In essence we built a foundation, and getting back to the construction analogy this wasn’t just having the ground cleared and levelled before building – that isn’t enough, you have to then dig down and pour some concrete into the hole, and only when it has set properly can you even think about starting to build. The quality and quantity of the foundation determines many things, not least how high you can build and certainly how stable and long-lived the structure will be. It is the one process that simply cannot be skipped, or even rushed – it really is that important. I see a great many ‘structures’ on the horizon that don’t have much depth in my opinion – lots of height at first inspection, but built too soon on ground that has only been cleared, and little more. Everyone, almost, seems to be in such a hurry to dive into the advanced training that the basics get little attention. Building too high, too fast, without a good foundation is never a good idea.

Like I alluded to earlier, personally I don’t build ‘towers’ these days, I build ‘bunkers’ instead. I don’t need, or want the extra rooms, and neither do the individuals and groups that I teach – function is everything, and this is where I concentrate my efforts. The ‘structures’ might look minimal above ground, but this is far from the case when you step inside and press the ‘down’ button in the elevator!

Do I get bored? Do I ever want more? To be honest – no. It’s all there anyway, across the full spectrum. The only thing missing is the ‘trim’ that makes other pursuits only appear to be more comprehensive, and instead there is a more efficient and ergonomic user interface that makes the whole thing seem simpler and more accessible – just as technology is striving to achieve with even the most complex systems elsewhere. Complex does not, and should not, have to be complicated.

The only thing that ever gets ‘boring’ is the result, the end effect, the performance, and this is what I want more of, this is what I want to add to to change for the better – and it’s truly a long time time in the making if you do it right!


Repetitive Training Of The Fundamentals

I won’t go into any attempt to put a percentage forward, all I can say is that – as I mentioned above – the majority of the result-driven, effective practices out there are traditional in nature. In the history of our species we have figured out the best ways and means of learning and perfecting long-term skills, and it invariably revolves around repetitive training of the fundamentals, with a disproportionate amount of time and effort expended to this end compared with ‘advanced’ material – which are invariably merely the basics taken in a specialised direction anyway.

Look at boxing and Muay Thai as prime examples, what about Judo too? Do they just get on the mat or in the ring and fight? Of course not, they drill the basics over and over, until they are automatic, then they work on applying them, then they drill the basics some more, and on and on.

One important observation regarding repetitive training – unless each and every movement you make is identical, you are not actually performing repetitions.

Firing off a hundred punches may not be the same as doing a hundred reps – prior to the development of the skillset – when you are going fast and with power you maybe only repeat the exact desired punch 20 times, and these 20 good reps are spoiled by the 80 bad ones – you will have a long job securing the necessary neural pathways at that rate in order for the technique to become an unconscious act. I advise everyone to work slowly at first, so the movement is perfect, visible and correctable – be self-diagnostic, be critical and body-aware at this level, don’t train what you haven’t yet learned.

All non-combative skills are learned in this same progressive manner, think about driving for instance – you don’t start on the motorway/highway, you build up to this obviously, this is actually a highly traditional approach and it works superbly. Diving straight into advanced ‘exciting’ training may be initially more satisfying, but long-term offers far less.

In this era of ‘reality-training’ the shortcut is the fashion, without doubt, in every facet. Instructors appear seemingly overnight almost, and promise the same accelerated development for their students – ‘gross motor skills’ and ‘minimal skillsets’ are used to promote systems, some are purely seminar/DVD based and others no more than a tenuous collection of dirty tricks. Crash courses are attractive – the promise of more result for less effort never fails to lure certain individuals.

Look at a group that really and truly has a small gross-motor based skillset – boxers. What shortcuts do they take? None – they know that skill development doesn’t happen quickly, it is built over time with a watchful eye. They don’t rush to do the exciting stuff, the sparring, because without the tools it would be a waste of time and hugely counter-productive.

Scenario training is all well and good, aggressive and energetic roleplay with padded-suit assailants may well be more interesting than repetitive skill training – but it’s like comparing fast-food to a well balanced meal, immediately satisfying but usually devoid of substance and real nourishment. Jumping head-first into advanced training such as this without first having the necessary skills doesn’t do such practices justice – a common sight is the ineffectual flailing individual, full of adrenaline but lacking in skill to the point that the aggressor barely even needs to wear armour at all! The practioner may be consciously competent without stress – but this competence deteriorates dramatically under duress. Drilling a technique to an unconsciously competent level means that it is retained when your thought process is preoccupied and your concentration is seriously degraded – but this means lots of boring traditional training of the basics to achieve this…

Note that in all the above I use the term ‘basics’ quite a lot.

I no longer use this term if I can help it, as it tends to conjure up an inferior image compared to that which could be more ‘advanced’ in nature.

This, I’m convinced, has people staring
straight through, over, or past, the essential underpinning material, striving for a glimpse of some superior magic instead.

I prefer to use the term ‘fundamental’ in place of basic, and ‘specialist’ in the place of advanced – as these far more accurately reflect the true nature of things.



You can find Mick on his Core Concepts Forum. If you are interested in Combatives at all you will get a lot out of reading this forum. It is full of information and great discussions, definitely the best self defence forum on the net. If you are interested in training with Mick or booking him for a course or seminar then you can contact him through his Core Combatives website, or look him up on Facebook.


6 Responses to “Mick Coup: Traditional Training Methods Still Rule”

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  1. makes a lo of sens to me-

  2. Thanks Mick for allow this to republished, a pleasure to read.

  3. Great article written bi MIck as usual, anyway I found also another point of view about motor learning and short and long term memory:

  4. sono d’ccordo, “la strada e’ lunga per Roma ,mille strade portano a roma”

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