Pad Drills: Start With The Fight Not The Drill

combatives trainingBefore we begin, take a look at the video below. It features clips of some real street fights.

Now ask yourself: Does the way you train reflect the reality of what is seen in those clips?

I only ask because I don’t believe that much of what passes for self protection training comes anywhere near the reality of your average street fight. The drills that I see practiced (and the drills that I have practiced myself in the past) don’t do much to prepare a person for the type of fighting that often takes place in the street. Many self defence drills are simply too abstract and removed from the reality of real fighting to be of any use, and this is because many of those who teach and practice self protection have failed to relate their training methods back to the reality of the fight itself.

There are no reality checks in place, and as Steve Morris has pointed out, without any kind of reality check in place, people will go off into fantasies about the validity and meaning of their practice. It is easy to justify your practice and training methodologies when you never have to prove the validity of what you do via any kind of fighting, in or out of the gym.

You end up training in a bubble that is formed out of what you think reality is all about, instead of what it is actually about.

It is so easy to end up in fantasy land when there are no reality checks in place. I’ll admit that I’ve spent a fair bit of time in this place myself over the years, firstly when I practiced traditional martial arts, and then, to a lesser extent, when I switched to so-called reality self defence. Lately, I’ve been seeing a disturbing amount of fantasy in the self protection scene. Just because something is labelled as being “realistic”, doesn’t make it any more so.

In my experience, when someone settles on a particular way of doing something that is comfortable for them and to all intents and purposes makes perfect sense to them (at least within the context of what they view as reality, which very often isn’t reality at all), they become very reluctant to change things or even admit that they have gotten it all wrong. The pain of change or being seen to be wrong is too much for them, so they continue to dwell in fantasy land because it feels right to them.

I’ll be the first to admit that a lot of what I have being doing in my training this past while has been dubious, to say the least, mainly because I have failed to relate what I’m doing back to the fight. Some of what I trained felt right to me at the time, but just because something feels right, doesn’t make it right.

Your priority in training shouldn’t be to attach yourself emotionally or otherwise to what you are doing, but to make sure that what you are doing is as close to the reality of real fighting as possible.


The Big Shots

A staple technique in self protection is the big shot. You see guys doing it all the time, punching or palm striking a pad as hard as they can, the goal being to deliver as much impact as possible into the pad. As Mick Coup stated to me recently, this is like taking a penalty kick from a standing start and in the grand scheme of things doesn’t mean a whole lot. Big fucking deal, were Mick’s exact words, I think.

And he is right. This exercise of doing the big shot is largely pointless, especially when most of those who do this have to get themselves ready before they deliver it, and when they finish the strike, they pause again to get themselves ready for the next big shot. It’s just too abstract an exercise and tends to lead people down the garden path, allowing them to convince themselves that they will end a confrontation with a single strike that is going to quickly and cleanly knock their opponent into oblivion.

I’m not saying you can’t knock someone out with a single strike if you get in there first before they make a move. What I am saying however, is that it is mostly drunks and people who can’t fight that are most vulnerable to this kind of tactic. A more sober or more experienced person will not go down so easily. After you throw that first strike, should you even connect properly with it, or at all, you are going to have a fight on your hands. If all you have in your toolbox is a single big shot that you can’t throw without prior preparation, then you are a bit fucked.

Your training should not be centred round delivering these single big shots. There is no challenge involved in knocking out drunks or those who can’t fight. The challenge lies in being able to put down a more skilled and experienced fighter. As Steve Morris puts it:

“I want to train to fight against an opponent who is my worst nightmare. I don’t base my representation of my opponent on my past experience. If I did that, I’d always be behind the curve. And I don’t base my representation on an imagined Joe Schmoe Streetfighter that I’m more likely to encounter in a street altercation. I’d rather imagine the most challenging guy there is, and train as if I’m going to fight him. If my next opponent turns out to be somebody less challenging, I can always gear down and moderate my response; but if I’ve prepared at too low a level, I can’t ‘gear up’ to rise to the occasion.”

In order to gear up for the most challenging opponent there is, you must step up your training and take yourself away from pointless pad drills and scenario training that is not grounded in any reality but the one you have made up.

Take a look at the video below. Even though the fights are in the ring, they still represent to a great extent the realities of a typical street fight. Many strikes are thrown by both fighters, and many of those strikes often miss or have little effect. Both fighters also get hit many times before one of them gets put down. It’s a million miles away from the representations of fighting seen in many gyms and self protection classes.

Just by watching the two videos I have posted here, you should be able to see the kind of direction in which you should take your training. But don’t just base your conclusions on just those two videos. Check out many more. Draw from your own experience of fighting as well. You will soon see the similarities in the way fights actually go down.

Now ask yourself: Does my training reflect the realities of the way most fights happen?

If the answer to that question is no, then you must look to change things.


Alive Pad Training

As I’ve said, the majority of the pad training seen in gyms and self protection classes is so stilted and abstract as to be completely useless for preparing one for an actual physical encounter.

Watch this video and see how pad training should be done. The pad training in the video is alive, and the pad man is actually fighting back, not just standing there holding the pads out like someone who is directing traffic.

You may get the impression that I’m advocating you take up Muay Thai. I’m not. I’m just asking you to look at the training methods, take them on board and modify them to suit your own training. From there, you can go on to live fighting, using the same kind of techniques and movements that you practiced in the pad drills.

Everything you do in training should be related back to the fight. Start with the fight and go from there. This will keep your training in line with reality. Starting with the training methods first, before trying to relate them to the fight is a sure-fire way to end up in fantasy land.

Watch lots of fights. Have lots of fights (or fight-based training) in the gym. This will ensure you stay out of fantasy land and closer to reality.


2 Responses to “Pad Drills: Start With The Fight Not The Drill”

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  1. Zara says:

    I fully agree with this article: static training with a passive padholder is only useful for developing powerful shots but it’s not realistic training that, in itself, will prepare you for a fight. I believe striking should always consist of short burst of powerful shots while maintaining a guard and always moving forward. If you have to ready yourself or first get into a guard before you can start (counter)attacking clearly you’re doing something wrong and you’re not likely to perform very well in a real fight unless the opponent is totally incompetent.

    What I conclude from that and other videos of so called ‘street fights’ is that most people really are totally inept when it comes to fighting: if he’s not putting up an effective defense and you still have to hit someone 50 times before he actually goes down or gives up you’re pretty much a crappy fighter and if you stand your ground, maintain your guard and attack aggressively (using the above mentioned short, violent bursts) I’m sure you have little to fear from the average, untrained street thug who relies solely on intimidation and aggression. Still most upstanding citizens are not ready to deal with violence in almost any form (except maybe the verbal kind which is so prevalent on TV these days) and just hitting pads or practicing with compliant partners is indeed poor preparation for effective SD.

    Btw: for striking muay thai is one of the best arts out there since it’s based on what works (in a ring at least and this correlates ot a high degree to the street), it incorporates realistic training methods (be it one on one) and teaches you to throw combinations while maintaing cover (a totally opposite to this is karate, at least in the traditional version, where people are taught to pull their opposite hand back to their hip instead of to their head where it’s actually useful) and employ constant movement of both the head and the feet.

    PS: “If all you have in your toolbox is a single big shot that you can’t throw without prior preparation, then you are a bit fucked.” Love the understatement.

  2. Neal Martin says:

    Thanks for your comments as always, Zara. If I had to do it all again, I’d start with Muay Thai. It’s the closest thing there is to a good, effective street system, because it’s just about putting someone away quickly and powerfully. I think for self protection, you can take a lot from it.

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