That may seem like a strange thing to say. I mean, you know why you train right? You train to learn how to put someone down in the fastest, most efficient way possible.
The end goal of Combatives training is, or should be, to learn how to dispatch an attacker safely, with minimum effort to you and maximum damage (mostly) to them.
Sure, there are other things to consider, like learning to stay within the law, increasing our awareness, de-escalation skills etc., etc.
But whatever else you learn in self defence training, the main goal should always be to learn how to fight, to survive in a physical altercation, by any means necessary.
Yet people often forget this primary goal, becoming side-tracked by legal issues or things like physical conditioning and personal development.
Even when people think they are being motivated by the primary goal of learning how to put someone down, they often aren’t.
A good example of this misguided training practice can be seen in pad work. Pad work plays a big part in Combatives training. It is essential for honing strikes and developing power and accuracy.
Pad work plays a fundamental role in allowing us to hone our striking skills and thus become better at putting down an attacker.
The problem arises however, when we forget the true purpose of pad work and we start to fixate only on hitting the pads as hard as we can. Pad hitting then becomes like an abstract exercise and we loose context.
It becomes like a game, the object of which is to hit the pads really hard, a bit like that punch ball machine you often find in pubs, with guys doing their macho best to hit the target as hard as they can in order to get the high score.
Suddenly, the motivation of learning how to put down an attacker gets forgotten as you fall into playing games, trying to get that metaphorical high score.
Training with pads all the time, it is very easy to loose sight of why you are hitting them in the first place.
This is why it is so important to always remind yourself of your main goal, and not just mentally, but physically as well.
Engaging The Combative Mind
Mentally speaking, how do we keep the goal of learning to put down an attacker at the forefront of our minds?
Firstly, when you train, put yourself in a different headspace. Just before you begin training, take a moment and remind yourself of what you are about to do and why you are about to do it. For instance, you may tell yourself something like the following:
I am here to learn real self defence. I am not here to fuck about. I’m here because I want to be able to put down anyone that threatens me or my loved ones, and I want to be able to do it in the quickest, easiest way possible for me, and the hardest way for my attacker.
That kind of self talk will put you into the proper headspace, the kind of space where you take your training seriously and know exactly why you are doing it.
It’s important to have this kind of motivation; otherwise you will just be training for the sake of it. (If you want to train for the sake of training, why choose Combatives? There is only one reason why you would train in Combatives and that’s the one I’ve mentioned several times already. If you want to train for the sake of training then train in traditional martial arts.)
More worryingly for you, because you are not ruthless in your pursuit of the aforementioned goal, you will be much more inclined to mess about. You will also be more open to bullshit.
Without that end goal in mind, you will develop bad training practices and your training will become counter-productive. You will end up doing silly drills and things that work your fitness more than your fighting skills.
And as reality is not at the fore-front of your mind, you will not be able to distinguish between what is good and what is bad in technique; between what will save your life and what will get you killed.
I really don’t see the point in training Combatives if realistic self defence isn’t your main goal. If you are more concerned with attribute training, then martial arts training is a much better option for that, as I’ve said.
Mental Reality Checks
To further enable you to stay within the right combative mindset, you must also bring your imagination and visualisation skills into play during training.
Every time you hit a pad you must try to envision yourself actually hitting a real person, not just the pad in front of you. Imagine you are in a situation and there is a real threat standing in front of you. Feel the emotions and bodily sensations that come along with that.
This will also serve as a reminder of why you are standing striking pads. You are practicing to hit a real target.
Do the same with any drills you do. Imagine you are in a real situation as you go through the drill. Same with scenario training. Really immerse yourself into the scene, really feel it.
Physical Reality Checks
Physically speaking, there are things you can do to keep reality and your primary goal in mind.
One really excellent way of doing this (and one that I use all the time) is practicing your strikes on someone (and no, not on your unsuspecting significant other…they tend to react none too kindly to being suddenly palm-striked in the face mid conversation…tends to cause a few problems, if you know what I mean).
And when I say practice your strikes on someone, I mean you do so in a controlled manner (training partners don’t last very long when you keep knocking them out, you know).
In my classes, before I get students to practice striking the pads, I first get them to try the strikes on each other.
So let’s say I want them to practice a knife-hand strike to the jaw (one of my favourite strikes, by the way). They do the strike on each other, at near full speed but with only a small amount of power, just enough so their partner can feel the effects of such a blow. The person doing the strike is only doing so to deliver impact so the other partner can feel it (in terms of practicing the strike itself, this would be a bad method for doing so, as you are always pulling the strike). The impact should be enough to induce a slight brain-shake in most cases, or a nominal amount of pain.
Actually feeling the effects of a strike (however subdued) gives you essential insight into what you are trying to achieve by hitting a real attacker in the first place. You will know the precise effect you are looking for and which tool to use to get that effect.
The next thing I get my students to do is to practice the strike in slow motion, but to make contact every time. This allows a person to practice the strike without conditioning pulling it. The actual strike can always be speeded up if need be.
The important thing here is that the student gets a feel for actually using the strike on a real person. They get to strike a real target, and not just a pad.
Then, when the student moves on to practicing on the pad, they can more easily put the pad exercise into context by keeping in mind what they just did. Now they can strike with full power as if they were striking the real target they were hitting a moment before.
You should do this exercise before hitting any pads wherever possible. It really helps put things in context.
You also get to test out techniques and get real feedback. A technique you thought worked great on the pads may turn out to have not the impact or effect you thought it had when you actually tried it on a partner.
Some things look good. Some people make things look good. It is easy to think something is good when it actually isn’t.
This brings me to pressure testing. This is another essential practice for staying close to reality and working on that one goal we talked about (you haven’t forgotten it already, have you?).
With pressure testing you are working on things against real live opponents who are coming at you hard. Every time I do a pressure test, I am reminded of why I train in Combatives/SD and why I can’t afford to be complacent or counter-productive in my training.
If a technique doesn’t stand up to pressure in training, then I’m not going to train that technique anymore and I’ll find something else that does stand up to the pressure.
All else aside, self defence is about getting the better of your attacker, and not the other way around. Pressure testing teaches you this. If the other guy or guys get the better of you, then you go down, and possibly suffer some hurt.
Go down in a real situation and you may end up suffering a lot of hurt.
You need to always remember that when you are training. Adopting the training practices talked about in this article will certainly help you do just that.
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