How Much is Too Much?

Since I taught my first public seminar in 1997, Martial Blade Concepts (MBC) and all the other parallel curricula I practice (empty-hand tactics, counter-weapon, stick, handgun, etc.) have evolved significantly—as they should. As I continue to learn and get exposed to new things, my approach to tactics changes. As my body changes with age, my tactics change as well. And, most importantly, as my understanding of what works, why it works, and how to make it work best grows and deepens, my tactics change.

Generally speaking, the changes that have occurred have been toward a more simplified, outcome-based approach that provides usable skills in the shortest possible time. The ability to trust and have confidence in a more finite skill set is fueled by a deeper understanding, as well as the communication skills to convey the logic of the system efficiently to allow others to share in that deeper understanding. Following the theme and explaining that in simpler terms, the message has gotten clearer and I’ve gotten better at conveying it.

So, with all that in mind, what should you focus on in your training? How much is too much? And when do I know when my “tool box” is full enough? To be honest, the only one who can answer those questions is you; however, the means for answering them is pretty straightforward: challenge yourself and be honest with your answers.

Let’s say you’ve done some training in the MBC curriculum—especially the curriculum as it is reflected in the most up-to-date expression of the system: the Martial Blade Concepts DVD. You know that the basic logic of the system is based on the concept of four Defensive Responses for four Zones of Defense, or 16 basic techniques. However, as explained in the video, the “go-to” tactics are more finite than that. They focus on passes or crossadas for angles 1 and 3 (assuming a right-handed attacker) and meets for 2 and 4. As such, that’s the way you practice and that’s where you choose to stop. When your training partner swings an angle 1 cut with a training knife, your crossada and your follow-up responses are swift, accurate, and reflect diligent training. That’s good.

To determine whether it’s good enough, put your training into context. Instead of a training knife, have your partner swing a padded stick about two feet long. Instead of the middle of the floor, put your back against the wall and then have him swing. Suddenly the world changes and your preferred response is no longer appropriate to the situation at hand. Quite literally, you don’t have enough tools in your toolbox.

This is a healthy and necessary process and one that we should all do regularly. It is more sensible and relevant than just amassing more tools.

Since the toolbox analogy is well known and widely understood, let’s expand upon that and look at another MBC concept: “Have a plan, and work your plan.” What that means is that, as much as possible, you want to have simple, multi-functional sequences of motion that—powered by an exceptional understanding of their physiological potential—can do many different things. Through training, you take a single sequence or a single technique and explore all the different things it can do in the broadest possible range of circumstances. You learn to use it defensively, offensively, against left handers, against right handers, on your feet, on your back, etc. Following the tool theme, you make your technique a Crescent wrench instead of a socket set. That way, no matter what sized “nut” you’re up against, you’ve got an appropriate tool for the job.

With all that said, there are some “one-off” techniques that are so good they belong in your toolbox—even if they disrupt the elegant logic of Four Defensive Responses/Four Zones of Defense. A perfect example is the Split-X defense against a low angle 5 thrust. It is an incredibly functional technique against a very common and exceedingly dangerous attack. Few tactics can equal its structure or function, so it remains an important skill in the MBC/CBC system. However, it is a skill that I chose to focus on only after having determined that the rest of the core skill set didn’t provide as good an answer.

More is not always better. As the saying goes, “You will fight the way you train.” As such, focus your training on the skills that will best serve you in a fight. Then validate those skills in realistic contexts. If they come up short, fill in the blanks with carefully chosen tools that provide as many additional functions as possible.

Train hard, stay safe.

Mike