How Much Technique is Too Much?

How much technique is too much?

When I was young and new to the martial arts, I wanted to learn as much as possible. At the time, I thought that meant learning as many different techniques as I could. Whether it was 20 different defenses against a rear choke or every mutation of an outside crescent kick, I wanted them all.

Later, when I was involved in several self-defense situations, I found that I invariably used the same simple techniques. Because they were simple and powerful, they were the natural go-to choices when I had to respond reflexively.

With this experience in mind, I tried very hard to make MBC—and everything else I now practice—as simple and straightforward as possible. Rather than focusing on numerous angles of attack like the traditional Filipino martial arts (FMA), I focused on categorizing angles from the defender’s point of view and based on the natural range of motion required to defend against them. For example, if the defenses against an angle 1, an angle 6, and an angle 10 are basically the same thing, angles 6 and 10 aren’t all that critical to learning functional self-defense. They all fall into one of four “zones” (Zone 1), so they can all be treated as an angle 1. Attacks on the centerline could be deflected into one of the four zones and then processed accordingly.

Taking that concept a step further, I defined the Defensive Responses of the system based on the physical “possibilities” and the target priorities that achieve predictable stopping power. I narrowed these Defensive Responses down to four—the pass, follow, crossada, and meet. Four Defensive Zones, four Defensive Responses, and 16 basic techniques made for a very simple, easy-to-understand system of knife tactics.

That basic system worked and still forms the foundation of MBC today; however, it does not include other very functional, practical, and combatively useful tactics. It also “forces” the inclusion of some Defensive Responses that are not the most practical choices for a particular angle of attack—at least when considered in a “matched-lead” context (i.e. right vs. right).

After codifying the basics of MBC, I continued to explore other martial arts and other approaches to knife tactics. I kept an open mind and applied my experience as an intelligence analyst to the problem. I evaluated drills, techniques, and tactics as objectively as possible based on the potential combative functions they offered. At the same time, I resisted the urge to accumulate techniques just to expand the system of have something new to practice. In fact, I actively tried to eliminate techniques that do not have high potential with regard to combative function.

Through this process, I am confident that I have made MBC a complete, highly functional system that is extremely versatile and scalable. It offers sound, combat-effective solutions to a full scope of potential violent attacks, provides built-in back-up and alternative tactics, and integrates all these with an exceptional level of clarity and understanding at both the conceptual and mechanical levels. The result is considerably more than 16 basic techniques and the tidy, simplistic logic that I still teach beginners on the first day. The additional techniques, however, are well worth the effort. The reason is that they were chosen to provide efficient function that didn’t already exist in the core techniques of the system.

For example, the Roof Block is a very efficient way of defending against an overhead attack. Back when MBC used to include the “Four-Count Crossada” and “Six-Count Crossada” drills, it was easy to relate the Roof Block to the “opening” crossada against angle 2. Over time—and the experience of teaching literally hundreds of students—I realized that the practicality of the opening crossada as a defensive response against an angle 2 was very limited. I ultimately decided to eliminate it and the Crossada drills because there wasn’t enough functionality to warrant keeping them.

Interestingly, this led to a deeper understanding of the “shoulder block” or pluma (“pen” block) movement that is used to defend against the angle 2 in the Sumbrada drill. In the context of the “16-techniques” approach to the system, the shoulder block (checking with the palm of the left hand and draw cutting edge up with the right) was, for lack of a better word, “unclassified.” It didn’t fit any of the Defensive Responses. However, when I dispensed with the opening crossada for angle 2, I had to determine whether the crossada—as a Defensive Response in any form—was still valid for angle 2. What I discovered was a more efficient version of the shoulder block. Rather than checking to stop the attacking arm and then draw cutting it, the movement was much more effective (and easier to learn) as a “push-pull.” Checking the arm and then shoving it into the upturned edge of the blade is much more powerful and comfortable. It also preps the next movement—a downward cut to the triceps—by shoving the arm away and into the perfect range for that cut.

Since the hands move in opposite directions to create a shearing force, the “push-pull” defenses for angles 2 and 4 are perfectly functional expressions of the crossada concept. More importantly, they’re simpler and more efficient than the classic “opening” crossadas.

Where does that leave the Roof Block? It is now “unclassified” based on the 16-technique quantification of the system. However, it’s still worth learning, as are hubud, punyo sumbrada, palisut, and the other highly functional tactics that are also included in the complete MBC system, but not conveniently categorized in the basic 16 techniques.

If you’re interested in this topic and want to explore it further, Stay Safe Media recently released Martial Blade Concepts: Volume 4. This DVD provides a comprehensive “review” of all the combative applications of MBC’s standard-grip system. In the process, it also allows the viewer to understand the full scope of MBC’s technique and understand the logic behind the choices I made in refining the system. Viewed as a complete body of work, it reveals the extensive “common ground” that exists between the vast majority of MBC techniques and clearly illustrates the simplicity and versatility of the core movements. Viewed step by step, it allows the student to analyze and appreciate the reasoning for the inclusion of specific techniques outside the four Defensive Responses. Along the way, I reinforce critical concepts of the system and explain how most techniques are subsets of other movements and how “live-hand” tactics share the mechanics of weapon-hand movement.

In reality, MBC: Volume 4 is much more than a “review.” It brings MBC full circle and offers a complete menu of its standard-grip combative applications, clearly demonstrating the versatility, completeness, and brutal combative efficiency of the system. It also provides the student with basis for evaluating his or her own progress in the defensive application of the system and offers an incredible resource for “one-stop shopping” when it comes to choosing the techniques that best fit your needs and your personal expression of MBC. If you view it—and the MBC system—in its entirety, you see everything we currently have to offer and receive a thorough explanation as to why I choose to offer it. If that’s too much for you, that’s fine. Scale your study and you’re your expression of it accordingly.

How much technique is too much? That’s for you to decide based on your personal level of motivation, skill, and physical ability. As we say in MBC: “You don’t have to fight like me; you just have to fight well.”

Stay safe,

Mike

“Flow” Drills and their Value in Combative Training

One of the things that attracted me to the Filipino martial arts (FMA) many years ago was their use of reflex training or “flow” drills. Although I was already coming from a somewhat non-traditional martial arts background, most of the training I had done still followed a classical format: dedicated technique-based practice, sparring, and tool development on striking pads and bags. The most dynamic thing we did was “technical sparring,” which was basically technique-based training in a multiple-attacker context–in simple terms “combative monkey-in-the-middle.” The addition of multiple attackers and a higher degree of spontaneity allowed this form of training to better simulate the adrenal stress of a real attack; however, it was very dependent upon the skills and intensity of your training partners. When done right, it was magic. When done wrong, it looked like a bad kung fu movie.

When I finally got involved in the FMA, I was amazed at the wide variety of flow drills and the way that they accelerated both skill and reflex development. At a basic level they get you to repeat key sequences of movement with a partner in a way that has scalable speed and intensity. As you get better and start moving faster, you can incorporate more aggressive energy, footwork, and other elements to increase the performance anxiety. As the saying goes, “Repetition is the mother of all skill.” To take that a step further, “Repetition under stress is the mother of higher, more reliable skill.”

As my skills and understanding of flow drills developed, I realized that it was possible to use the drills as a foundation of a very dynamic training method I now call “the chess game.” Since many drills include similar angles and movements, it is very easy to “substitute” the response of one drill for that of another. That substitution may be a simple variation within the flow of the original drill, or it may prompt your partner to transition to the new drill. Once you understand this concept and the basic mechanics of substituting and transitioning, you have a very dynamic, spontaneous set of choices to play with. Better yet, so does your partner. Since there are no verbal cues in this process to prompt each other, picking up on and flowing with the transitions becomes extremely spontaneous and develops amazing reflexes. In fact, in many cases students do everything right and respond with perfect reflex and technique, yet are unable to mentally “keep up” with their actions to register them cognitively. As we say in MBC is that “Drills give you repetition; transitions give you reflex.”

Once I discovered the “chess game” method, I began analyzing the drills I had learned to see how well they supported actual combative application. I also began modifying the drills to make them more knife-oriented and to more closely replicate plausible attacks. Through this analytical process—and the concurrent development of MBC’s stopping-power-based targeting system—I realized that some FMA drills, like Sumbrada, provided an outstanding template for very effective combative technique. I also realized that many of traditional FMA enthusiasts who practice Sumbrada regularly have no idea of its true purpose. Since MBC is, by design, a results-oriented system, I was determined to include only those drills that support worthwhile skill development. Over time, I have added, deleted, and modified drills to “fill holes” in MBC’s reflexive response patterns and avoid unnecessary “martial masturbation.” That process still continues as MBC–and my understanding of combative training–continue to evolve.

Earlier this year, I taught a seminar in Switzerland for a group that included instructors of several Filipino systems. During that seminar, they asked about my approach to flow drills. Since there are many different names for the same drill and many different variations of specific drills, I picked Sumbrada (aka 10-count, Large-Box Drill, etc.) as a good place to start. I first demonstrated the MBC version of the drill to provide a frame of reference. I then demonstrated a traditional FMA version of it and contrasted it to the MBC version, explaining in great detail why I did specific things differently. Finally, I invited my hosts to show me their version of the drill. When they did, I noticed that they did some things very differently than any other version of the drill that I had seen. Always eager to learn, I asked them why they did things that specific way and how those differences supported the combative applications of the drill’s movements. Their response, which shocked me, was that they didn’t know the drill was supposed to have combative applications. It was just a drill. My response, which applies to ALL training methods, is “if you don’t know WHY you are doing something, don’t spend your training time doing it.”

MBC’s approach to reflex training drills is all about ingraining patterns of motion that have direct combative application. If we don’t understand why we’re doing something, we question its usefulness and typically stop doing it to focus on things that make more sense. This approach has evolved significantly since I first began teaching MBC publicly in 1997. Although it will continue to evolve, its current state of the art is documented in my most recent training DVD “Martial Blade Concepts: Volume 3.”

MBC Volume 3 guides you step by step through the drills of the MBC system and, very importantly, explains why the drills are included in the system and what skills they isolate. When appropriate, I compare them to traditional versions of FMA drills and explain why I have chosen to alter specific elements to be consistent with MBC’s tactics and methods. Finally, I explain and clearly demonstrate the combative applications of the drills—how the practiced movements and sequences of angles can be reflexively applied in a high-speed, spontaneous defensive situation.

Once the foundation of drills is established, I teach you the basics of the “chess game” and how to use it to create a dynamic, unpredictable, yet safe training methodology that provides a format for scalable progression. I also explain how this training method fosters a higher degree of “fighting spirit” by allowing you to work through your mistakes without ever breaking stride.

Flow drills are the secret to developing real, dependable combative skills in the MBC system and are an incredibly dynamic training method. For those of you who don;t have training partners, they also form the foundation of a solo training program that is much more meaningful and applicable than traditional “kata” because there is no mystery to the application of the movements.

Drills provide the repetition you need to develop skills and, ultimately, the reflexes necessary to use those skills in a real defensive situation. Although they may look intimidating at first, I have successfully taught them to thousands of students. If they can do it, so can you. And if you’re not doing it, your training isn’t reaching its full potential.

Go with the flow!

Stay safe,

Mike

A TRUE STORY OF SURVIVAL

The 2011 SHOT Show was a great success on many fronts. And although most SHOT Show debriefs focus on cool new products, the highlight of my show was meeting a very resilient, articulate young lady who shared a very personal story with me.

It was close to the end of the day when this lady and her significant other came to visit me at the Spyderco law enforcement booth. Her boyfriend shook my hand first and thanked me for the instructional DVDs I’ve produced. I thanked him for his kind words, but quickly realized that his appreciation was much more than a casual comment. Showing genuine emotion, he explained that the information I presented on my DVDs saved his girlfriend’s life.

Needless to say, I was very humbled and very curious to know the details of the story. After meeting the young lady, I asked them to come back to the booth the next morning to share the story. They politely agreed.

The next morning, they returned and I invited the lady into the booth to sit and talk. After we sat, she took a deep breath and told me her story:

She explained that about 10 years ago, she was attacked and sexually assaulted. Although she knew the identity of the attacker and reported the incident to the police, due to the mishandling of evidence and a number of other factors, her attacker was not prosecuted.

In the years following the incident, her attacker began to stalk her. Once again, the police were of little help, so she chose to relocate and hopefully avoid further problems. To her credit, she chose to establish her new home in a state that permitted the concealed carry of firearms. She dutifully completed the necessary paperwork and sought out responsible training in defensive shooting skills.

Unfortunately, before she could complete her personal-defense preparations, her stalker tracked her down and attacked her a second time. During this attack, he threw her against a wall and shattered her shoulder, inflicting injuries that still plague her to this day. Yet again, law enforcement efforts were inadequate and her stalker remained on the street.

During this time, this lady met her boyfriend, who trained actively in all aspects of self-defense. In addition to formal hands-on courses, he supplemented his training with instructional DVDs—including the Personal Firearm Defense series produced by my friend Rob Pincus and marketed to the NRA membership. Among the videos included in this series was my DVD Practical Blade Defense.

Acknowledging that carry of a firearm isn’t always possible, the couple watched my DVD intently, invested in proper training equipment, and diligently practiced the skills presented in the video. They also invested in high-quality carry knives as back-up/alternate weapons to their handguns.

In 2010, the lady’s stalker decided to attacker her again. He had tracked her to her new home, in a new state. One evening, after she was returning home from the gym, which had a strict no-firearms policy, she was not carrying her firearm. However she did have her knife. When she turned the corner of her building, her stalker was waiting, having just left dead roses and a note on her doorstep. He confronted her and insisted that the two of them were destined to “be together.” She ordered him to stay back while she reflexively bladed her body to him to protect her injured shoulder and deploy her knife. Undeterred, the stalker lunged forward to attack. Remembering that the ultimate goal of self-defense is safe escape and that the best way to achieve that with a knife is through a “mobility kill,” this lady crouched low and attacked the stalker’s right thigh, just above the knee. Using all her strength, she cut deeply, severing the stalker’s quadriceps muscle and dropping him instantly to the ground.

After escaping safely and calling 911, she returned to the scene with the police. There was a significant pool of blood and it appeared that her attacker had lain there for some time before he was able to hobble away. Sadly, he is still at large.

It should be noted that the knife used in her defense was an assisted-opening folding knife with a 3.5-inch blade. She did not recall the exact model, and the knife was later lost during travel. It should also be noted that the attacker was approximately 6’ 4” tall, nearly 300 pounds, and very physically powerful.

In an e-mail she sent to me after the show, this brave lady offered the following words:

“I wanted to again take a moment to thank you for the training video you produced and how it played a significant role in me still being here (alive) today. The techniques you demonstrated and the manner in which you presented the knowledge were easy to retain and remember in a stressful situation. [My boyfriend] (whom you met as well) took the time to teach and practice your techniques with me before we sat together and watched the video. Those skills are what kept me from being a victim again in a very bad situation that is on-going in my life.

I appreciate you taking the time and wanting to hear my story and get my feedback on your materials. I am a true testament to being a survivor and not a victim. If there is anything I can do to assist you or attest to the viability and necessity of your training please let me know. I would be happy to help.”

Those words—and the fact that my instruction helped this lady survive a potentially deadly situation—mean more to me than anything else I’ve accomplished in the martial arts. I am incredibly proud of her and extremely grateful for her confidence in the MBC system and our teaching methodology. I sincerely hope that her skills, determination, and amazing will to survive continue to keep her safe always.

Black Belt Magazine’s Hall of Fame

Black Belt magazine recently released its December 2010 issue announcing the inductees into its prestigious Hall of Fame. I was selected as the Black Belt Hall of Fame Weapons Instructor of the Year. I am truly honored by this award and would like to express my sincere thanks to Black Belt magazine and all the readers who voted.

I read my first issue of Black Belt back in 1975, shortly after I began formally studying the martial arts. Through the years, it has continued to impress me as one of the few martial arts magazines that have maintained a high level of integrity and a consistent commitment to providing quality content. It is also the only martial arts magazine currently available that I feel is worth reading on a regular basis, so their recognition means a lot to me.

The martial arts world is full of awards, ranks, titles, and other honorific labels. In many cases, these titles are well deserved and appropriately honor worthy practitioners and instructors. Unfortunately, in other cases they are misused by self-aggrandizing martial artists more interested in cultivating an image than perfecting their skills or their ability to teach effectively. Sadly, the latter phenomenon has made becoming a “grandmaster” slightly less challenging than earning a GED, so MBC purposely doesn’t use them.

Because of the hyperbole that permeates the martial arts world, there are very few “honors” that get me excited. I take more pride in the fact that Kelly McCann lists Martial Blade Concepts on the links page of his combatives web site than I ever could by touting myself as a “master,” “grandmaster,” sifu, guro, or any other term you might think of. Kelly is, in my opinion, the best instructor in the business, bar none. As such, his recognition means something. Similarly, the Black Belt Hall of Fame means something because it represents satisfied readers who have read my articles, seen my approach, and found them relevant to their personal defense needs.

The greatest honor is knowing that you made a difference and that your efforts helped someone keep himself and his family safer. With that in mind, I am very proud to be a member of the Black Belt Hall of Fame.

Stay safe,

Mike

Martial Blade Camp 2010: A Turning Point in MBC Training Methodology

The weekend of 27-30 August 2010 marked the eighth annual Martial Blade Camp. In addition to being the largest and best-attended event in the camp’s history (48 attendees), it also marked a distinct change in the way that I teach the MBC system.

When I first began teaching publicly in 1997, my teaching method was more traditional and much more drill-focused. After learning the basic mechanics of the system, students were taught the various reflex-training or “flow” drills of the system. This got them moving and introduced the four Defensive Responses (pass, follow, meet, and crossada) of the system in a structured format. That structured format also taught students the sequences of angles that they would ultimately use to execute actual defensive technique.

Once everyone was doing the drills well enough (an accomplishment that varied considerably from group to group), I showed them how to “dissect” the drills and draw combative application from the sequences of angles they had learned. This “wax-on, wax-off” (or as we now call it, “wax-on, whack-off”) followed the traditional learning methodology in which the student is required to do something that he doesn’t really understand until he has earned the right to learn what it really is.

While the traditional method did help weed out folks who were not motivated to train or were training for the wrong reasons, after teaching that way for a number of years, I realized that it was not the most effective way to instill combative skill. When I would watch students at the end of a seminar, invariably the things they remembered best (and the ones they worked hardest to remember) were the practical, concrete applications of techniques. If they were paying attention, they also understood—at least to a degree—the concepts that made those techniques work.

After reflecting on this for a while, I began to experiment with changing my teaching methodology to emphasize realistic technique and the compelling logic behind that technique. I also put the technique into context with regard to the real purpose of MBC—modern personal defense—and the realities of knife carry, blade length, the true performance potential of typical carry knives, and the goal of achieving stopping power. As I refined the presentation, I also moves away from the traditional method of teaching the defenses against various angles in numerical order and focused on commonality of body mechanics and the underlying concepts of the tactics.

At this year’s camp, I focused heavily on the logic of MBC right up front to get everyone to “wrap their brains around the concepts.” I punctuated that with cutting demonstrations that immediately validated the performance of small, legal knives to get everyone to understand the real destructive potential they had on their side. From there, we spent just enough solo time to learn the basic angles and movement patterns of the system before we immediately put them to use in practical applications.

From the “master technique” of the system, we reinforced our understanding of target priorities and developed the total-body mechanics necessary to be effective with a knife. We then learned how to “deconstruct” that technique do discover other Defensive Responses contained within its structure and to understand how to “lower our standards” when the dynamics of an encounter require it.

By the end of Saturday’s training, a number of first-time students, veteran students, and MBC instructors approached me to comment on the methodology. To put it simply, they had never seen so many novice students progress so quickly in such a short period of time. Just as importantly, the veterans and instructors all felt that they had increased their own personal understanding of the system, even though they were technically “reviewing” material they already knew.

My presentation of Counter-Blade Concepts (CBC) followed the same evolutionary format. After teaching the CBC curriculum to a large number of law enforcement officers over the past few years, I have streamlined it to present the most useful skills first. Using them as a template to present the underlying concepts and physical structures of the techniques, we then branch to other techniques that share the same structures and basic mechanics. The order of presentation of technique is not numerical, but is based on the commonality of the attacks. As such, we spend most of our training time preparing for the attacks that are most likely to occur.

Again, the response to the methodology was overwhelmingly positive—especially from the law enforcement and correctional officers who attended the camp. They not only felt that the tactics themselves were much more practical and functional than the ones they had learned, they were also confident that they could retain and apply them more readily due to the common concepts and mechanics they shared.

Does that mean the training drills that used to be the focus of the system have been abandoned? Definitely not. Those drills are still a critical part of the training method in that they provide the scalable, adrenal-stress-inducing method of refining specific skills and developing spontaneous reflex (through transitions). The height of this skill was demonstrated at camp during the instructor testing process and is still a critical part of what we do. However, we now introduce it later–along with the refined logic that supports it as a training method.

MBC is all about giving good people the knowledge and skill they need to keep themselves and their families safe. When it comes to achieving that with a minimum of training time, I’m confident that our current methods are among the best available today. Ask any of the Martial Blade Camp 2010 participants and I’m sure they’ll agree.

Stay safe,

Mike

P.S. If you’re interested in the methodology described above, your best reference is the DVD Martial Blade Concepts: The Enhanced Course from Stay Safe Media. It presents the logic of the MBC system in a concise, compelling way and builds a strong foundation of knowledge and skill in a very tight format. While not perfect, compared to the presentation in my aging Fighting Folders video, it is a much more effective learning resource.

Martial Analysis: Learning at All Costs

One of the unfortunate phenomena that have plagued the traditional martial arts has been the obsession with secrecy. I understand and appreciate the need to present sensitive, potentially deadly information to students in a responsible manner. If a student is not mature enough to be trusted with certain information because he might use it without proper restraint, that makes perfect sense.
I also understand that historically many techniques were kept secret to preserve the tactical advantage (real or perceived) of one art over a rival system. That also makes sense.

However, passing on a system—or a purposeful subset of a system—and leading a student to believe that he has received the entire package when he really hasn’t doesn’t make sense. And when that “tradition” is formalized, you’ve got a recipe for misunderstanding and misinformation.

The process of withholding information has, over time, seriously diluted some martial arts. In simple terms, the arts were passed down without the “secrets,” so the knowledge base of the senior practitioners and legacy holders of the systems has become institutionally incomplete. Even though they might be performing the physical techniques of the system properly, the deeper meaning, underlying structure, and core concepts that power those techniques has been lost. In many cases, instructors will “parrot” key phrases that they heard during their training without having the ability to explain the meaning of those phrases. These phrases hint at the deeper understanding that should be part of the system, but when the students press for an explanation, there is no substance to deliver.

One excellent example of this is the triangular footwork of Indonesian pencak silat. When I first saw really good silat in action, I was blown away by the dynamic use of angles and leverages. Skilled practitioners—even those of smaller stature—used their power and the drive of their entire bodies, as well as a highly tuned sense of angles, to quickly off-balance their opponents in ways that seemed magical.

As I looked deeper into silat and had the opportunity to befriend a number of senior practitioners, I asked them about the angles and leverages of the systems and the concepts behind them. I also began compiling a library of instructional videos on the silat family of arts to try to quantify the principles that made them so effective. Despite my efforts to understand what made silat’s angles “tick,” I could not find a clear, logical explanation.

I had noticed a phenomenon in the silat community that, in many cases, its best instructors were not the senior lineage holders from the art’s motherland, but the second-generation Americans who had invested years of study to codify the non-linear teachings of their instructors. I had the good fortune of working with people like Stevan Plinck, Bob Orlando, and, most closely, Joseph Simonet, and seeing how they had absorbed, distilled, and organized the material they had learned. Over time, I also had the ability to compare their teaching methodology with that of their traditional instructors—mostly through Joseph Simonet’s extensive video library of “closed door” silat training sessions. Although it was clear that these highly skilled second-generation practitioners had achieved a quantum leap in the organization of their teaching, the real details of the silat triangle, or tiga, still were not clear.

During my military career, I worked in the signals intelligence field as a linguist and transcriber. I also earned a secondary MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) as an intelligence analyst and worked in that capacity for several years at the National Security Agency (NSA). That experience taught me a lot about the analytical process—how to take seemingly disjointed and unrelated bits of information and correlate them. Over time, that process allows you to identify patterns and relationships. And ultimately, it enables you to identify organizational structures, understand how and why things really work, and project that understanding into something useful.

Since my ability to learn what I wanted from the teaching of others had hit a wall, I decided it was time to learn by analysis of what they were doing. I began with my best resource, Joseph Simonet, with whom I worked closely when I served as Paladin Press’ Video Production Manager. In Joseph’s expression of silat, he used a footwork platform called a pantjar that consisted of a series of geometric patterns characterized by 45 and 90-degree angles. The pantjar also had an equilateral triangle with bisecting lines (tiga) attached to one end and a square (sliwa) at the other end. Joseph explained that the pantjar was the foundation of all silat footwork and angles and the secret of its effectiveness. However, he also faithfully repeated a key phrase taught by his instructor: that “everything learned on the pantjar ultimately ended up on the tiga. The triangle was the secret of silat footwork.”

Joseph is incredibly talented and physically very strong. When he demonstrated techniques using the angles of the pantjar for reference, he had no problem making them “work.” However, when his partner Addy Hernandez, who is also extremely skilled but had less physical strength, tried the same techniques with the same angles, they were much less effective.

When I compared the angles of the pantjar to the angles of movement of other skilled silat practitioners—particularly Paul deThouars and the legendary Dan Inosanto—I noticed a subtle but very significant difference. Rather than 45 and 90-degree angles, their movements seemed to follow more acute angles—like 30s and 60’s. Their techniques were extremely polished and appeared almost effortless. Although much of that was certainly due to the masterful levels of skill they developed over a lifetime of practice, I was convinced that a significant part of their ability was also based on the fact that their methods—based on their angles—were structurally superior. They were fighting smarter because they were applying the “secrets” and, in the process, lending credence to the phrase that the tiga was the key to silat.

I shared some of my insights with Joseph and he was surprised that I was able to draw so much from my observations and analysis. Intrigued by my analytical process, Joseph gave me access to his entire silat video collection, which included dozens of tapes containing rare archival footage and obscure video of noted silat players. Ultimately, I made copies of all the videos for myself and numbered the titles for reference. Every week for nearly a year, Joseph and I would each watch one of the videos, analyze it, and take notes (actually, I did all the note taking; Joseph mostly offered his comments). Every Sunday morning, I called him and we “debriefed” the video. He shared his comments and I offered my analysis. After about a year, we had worked our way through his entire library and the other silat videos I had purchased. Through that process, I formulated my personal analysis of silat’s triangular footwork and the principles that powered it.

Based on my analysis, I debunked the commonly taught concept of off-balancing a person by simply drawing a line between his feet and applying pressure on a vector that is perpendicular to that line. Although he will lose his balance, he will not fall down. Instead, he steps to compensate and “catch” his balance. I refer to this as “putting your opponent on the triangle.” There are several other ways of doing this, including weighting him, spreading his base, and applying foot traps.

Understanding where your opponent’s feet will end up once he’s “on the triangle,” learning how to put him there effectively, and having technique that immediately takes advantage of that weakness collectively constitute half the secret of the secret of the silat triangle.

The other half of the equation is “using the triangle,” which is a logical, quantifiable process of using angles, vectors, and footwork to off-balance and throw an opponent with great force, while ensuring the opportunity for an immediate and fight-ending follow-up on the ground. This process also reveals the principles of using the tiga on a vertical plane as a template for applying pressure in three dimensions to decisively control and throw an opponent.

Whether my analytical process “rediscovered” any secrets of traditional silat or not is a matter of opinion. Traditional silat stylists will claim that it’s been there all along (I agree) and that they’ve been teaching it that way forever (not so much). Others will simply dismiss my approach as uninformed conjecture. That’s fine too. Now that I’ve had the opportunity to apply the concepts identified in my analysis over several years of training, I know that when I do it properly, people fall down. When I teach it logically, my students understand it and they make people fall down. If someone doesn’t believe our approach is valid, ask the guys on the ground.

The best way to learn is obviously with the guidance of a skilled instructor who has thorough knowledge and understanding of the topic and the ability to present that information in a logical, progressive manner. Sadly, the structure of the traditional martial arts and the egos of some instructors do not always support that process. When that happens, the power to learn lies in your desire to learn and your willingness to analyze and make sense of what you see.

For those curious about learning more about the silat triangle and my “take” on it, I have quantified the information gained through my analysis and documented it in my instructional DVD Practical Unarmed Combatives: Volume 3 from Stay Safe Media. That DVD has already found an audience with silat practitioners around the world and the feedback I have received on it has been overwhelmingly positive. Does that DVD teach “secrets?” That’s a matter of opinion. What it does do is teach and demonstrate extremely effectively, sharing information openly and allowing the viewer to learn and understand the material very readily—just the way a good instructor should.

Stay safe,

Mike

When and Why to Change

Since my last blog entry, I’ve had the opportunity to train some very motivated students, including a group of law enforcement officers in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada (thanks to my good friend and MBC proponent Sean Carter) and the training officer for the UN peacekeeping forces in the Ivory Coast. In both instances, the students had taken the time to study my instructional DVDs prior to the training to develop an intellectual understanding of the material and its logic before tackling the physical training. Some of the Canadian officers had also trained with me previously and already had a strong foundation in the MBC/CBC method.
The second-most-interesting feedback I received from these students, who were focusing primarily on the CBC curriculum, was their recognition that some of the techniques I was now teaching were different than those shown in the videos and even different than what I taught last year. Although the concepts and fundamental principles of the system remained unchanged, the way they were expressed and the recommended “go-to” tactics had changed.
Logically, the first question asked was “Have you changed the way you do ____?” And, to their credit as MBC/CBC students, the next question posed was “Why?” In all cases, the answers to these two questions were exactly the same: “Yes” and “Because it’s easier for a beginner to learn and apply with a lower level of skill.”
In previous blog posts, I’ve addressed the fact that MBC/CBC are, by design, living, evolving systems that should change with time. The reason they should change is that my students and I continue to learn and expand our understanding of the skills we have now. We also strive to adapt those skills to new situations and emerging threats, a process that often serves as a catalyst for evolution and change.
The best reason for changing something, however, is when that new, improved version empowers students to become more capable sooner and with less training. When I teach, I actively look for student responses to my instruction. When the light bulbs go off and people “get it” quickly and reliably, I know that the material and my presentation are on target. When I get the puzzled, “mouth-breather” looks, I go back to the drawing board until I get it right—or at least “righter.”
For advanced students and folks who have already invested training time in the previous versions of the technique, the important thing to understand is that the new version doesn’t negate the old version; it just makes more sense as the first line of defense. If you can do a technique well, at speed, and under stress and make it work consistently, it works. It makes no sense to take that away from you when it is a reliable asset.
As a practitioner, adding the newer, simplified technique to your arsenal could still be a very good thing. Sure, it keeps your training fresh and gives you new material, but more importantly forces you to evaluate what works best for you. As always, it’s your ass on the line, so you must have confidence in the “go-to” techniques that you trust to defend your life.
Instructors have it a bit tougher. We have to know it all, have the capability to do it all, and have the ability to explain the “what” and “why” to the different students and audiences we serve. At that level, institutional knowledge of the entire system is a requirement. However, the ultimate goal for the students we serve is still to give them skills that fit their needs, their body types, and their physical attributes while maximizing their chances of surviving a critical incident. Again, if it works for you and you can make it work consistently under pressure, it works.
When should you change? When the “why” makes sense to you and fits your personal needs and physical attributes. When something is more logical than what you’re doing now, provides greater flexibility and efficiency, and allows you to do more with less, it’s time to evolve. If what you’re doing works for you and you don’t have any gaping holes in your skill set, that’s fine. As we say in MBC, “It’s not wrong; it’s different.”
How liberating is that?

Stay safe,

Mike

P.S. If you were reading carefully, you may have noticed that I mentioned the “second-most-interesting” feedback. So what was the most interesting? According to my Canadian host, two of his students—one law enforcement officer and one civilian—had successfully applied CBC tactics since my visit last year. In both cases, he credited their survival to the sound principles and concepts of CBC training. As founder and lead instructor of the system, I couldn’t be more honored or grateful to hear that news.

“Technical Sparring” Defined

In a previous blog entry, I discussed the advantages and disadvantages of sparring as it applies to self-defense. Based on that post, I received the following question:

“Could you expand on the explanation,definition and how to perform what you referred to as ‘Technical Sparring.’

“Technical sparring” is a term used by the first martial art I studied, American Self-Protection or ASP. ASP was a modern martial art that drew from the principles of the arts studied by its founder, Evan S. Baltazzi. Those arts included aikido, judo, Savate, and boxing. The art was highly structured and followed a progression of belt ranks. Each rank progression involved learning a series of self-defense techniques and demonstrating higher levels of proficiency in other skill sets.

In addition to practicing the techniques with an individual partner, ASP also incorporated a more dynamic method of training called “technical sparring.” At its basic level, this consisted of a “monkey in the middle” style of technique practice. One person would get in the middle of the mat, surrounded by the rest of the class. Based on that person’s level of knowledge and experience, the other class members would attack one by one to allow the “monkey” to practice his/her techniques in a random manner.

Initially, this process was very controlled to allow the monkey time to recognize and react to the attacks, which were thrown from predictable angles. As a student got more experienced, the intensity of the attacks increased, the interval between each attack decreased, and the angles of attack got more dynamic. Since the techniques for higher level belts included defenses against various weapons, the introduction of training knives, sticks, and guns also increased the stress. While beginners might spend three minutes in the middle, advanced students were required to go for 5-10 minutes per session.

As the tempo and dynamics of the method increased, we also began to “free form” a bit, incorporating attacks outside the rote technique of the system, having 2-3 attackers close simultaneously, and attacking with weapons other than those typically included in the standard techniques of the art. We also took cheap shots. If the monkey fell down, we’d close in and kick or try to mount. Ultimately, it became a pretty realistic, very intense training method that was very challenging and, by nature, incorporated many elements of defending against multiple attackers.

Why was/is technical sparring good? First of all, it evokes an adrenalized state more readily than training with a single partner. Performance anxiety is high, as is the level of physical exertion. That makes for good training.

Secondly, it provides a random, reasonably unpredictable series of stimuli that force you to respond reflexively. Since you don’t know that you’re practicing a defense against a right punch until the punch is coming, you have to react, not just “do” a technique that you know your partner will throw.

Most importantly, the technical sparring format forces you to finish every clash like an individual fight and then immediately prepare for another attack. Unlike the interminable game of tag of competitive sparring, you get out of the habit of “hit and assess” and focus on “hit and finish.” That doesn’t mean you can’t get “proactive” and preempt an attack–you certainly can. However, everything you do is focused on taking your attacker(s) out of the fight decisively, not scoring points.

Technical sparring is a very cool training method. It takes discipline and control on both sides of the equation to make it work, but it’s certainly worth adding to your training regimen.

Stay safe,

Mike

Sparring and Self-Defense Training

I recently received a question from an aspiring MBC student regarding the lack of traditional sparring in the MBC training methodology. I thought that question would make good fodder for a blog post, so I’ve taken my personal response to him and expanded it a bit to address the topic in greater detail.

First of all, I feel that sparring does have value and I come from a martial arts background that included a lot of it. For many years, I did the traditional “touch-gloves-then-beat-the-snot-out-of-each-other” approach. Depending upon the mood, my level of trust in my sparring partner, and our training goals, contact would range from medium to hard. Like most such training, we sparred in open areas with plenty of room to move. If we were on mats (and sometimes even when not), clinches, throws, and follow-up grappling we fair game.

Although it was fun and helped a lot with timing and footwork, as my training focus shifted from “martial arts” to self-defense, I found sparring less and less relevant. On the positive side, there is no substitute for the experience of hitting a moving opponent and getting hit and fighting through it. However, the negatives I saw were significant:

1) It encouraged the idea of “mutual combat” that was far removed from the reality of self-defense.
2) It encouraged the use of techniques that work well in a sparring environment, but are impractical on the street—like kicking above the waist.
3) It promoted the habit of backing off and using footwork and mobility to avoid clashes—something that is often not possible in the context and real-world environments of self-defense situations.
4) Unless you were throwing very hard, it really fostered the “game of tag” approach.
5) Even with an open-minded approach, there were still too many rules to make it realistic. As such, you rarely practiced your most practical, effective techniques because you can’t actually do them on a partner.
6) Again, unless you’re throwing full power and going for a knockout, you never practice finishing a fight.

The real turning point for me was attending a class taught by my friend Bill Kipp (FAST Defense) that included “Bullet Man” training. The students in the class included a variety of skill levels, from novice all the way up to long-time martial artists. Bill is exceptionally good at “woofing” and screwing with you verbally and mentally to get your adrenaline going before the physical stuff happens. The Bullet Man suit also removes the facial recognition, so even though you “know” him, it’s still a very realistic experience. Basically, he gets inside your head until your adrenaline is up, then he attacks. Your job is to defend yourself and land a few fight-stopping hits. Bill’s job is not to stop until he feels hits that would be likely to stop a real attacker.

The novices in the class did great. They only knew a few basic techniques and went balls-out to make the most of them. Interestingly, most of the seasoned martial artists reverted to a sparring mentality—at least initially. Rather than engaging and staying there until the fight was done, they fell back on what they knew best: hit-and-run sparring. After a few scenarios, most of them broke the habit and finished the fight (with the help of the rest of us penning them in and making it impossible for them to back away). However, a few of them could not break the sparring habit. When faced with a committed attack, they’d hit a couple times and immediately back off into sparring mode. They never landed any telling blows or got past the game of tag.

Although I’ve sparred since then, I do it with a very different mindset. Whenever possible, my students and I focus on clear roles of attacker and defender, rather than mutual competition. That way it stays relevant to actual self-defense and you focus on doing what’s appropriate in that situation. We also regard every “clash” as a fight and try not to dance too much to avoid clashing.

Our favorite form of “sparring” is what ASP (American Self Protection–the first system I ever studied) called “technical sparring.” It’s basically “monkey-in-the-middle” technique sparring that gets more and more fluid as people get more experienced. It reinforces the idea of “finishing” every clash and is a great primer for multiple-attacker situations.

The biggest problem with sparring, in my opinion, is that most people–and instructors–don’t approach it with a clear purpose. Activity is not progress and getting on the mat to blindly throw leather as a rite of passage is at best a means of developing cardio and pain tolerance. It doesn’t necessarily teach any skill.

Boxers and MMA fighters will spar to develop and refine specific skills. For example, a good boxer may only jab for an entire round to hone that skill–regardless of what the other guy throws. This is very different from the folks who use unstructured sparring as an ego trip and an excuse for having no real functional technique or tactics.

Does this aversion to traditional sparring mean that MBC (and our related skill sets) doesn’t have offensive technique? Absolutely not. We also have and practice offensive and preemptive skills. However, we still put them into a personal-protection context, not arbitrary mutual combat.

Stay safe,

Mike

Evolution–A Good Thing

One of the quotes that I came up with several years ago that has since become a favorite is: “The greatest qualification that many martial arts ‘founders’ have is that they’re dead and don’t have to answer questions anymore.” As irreverent as that may sound, there’s a lot of truth to it.

First of all, let me make it clear that I have great respect for traditional martial arts and those who practice them. After all, a person can train in the martial arts for many reasons: fitness, flexibility, social activity, sport, cross-cultural experience, and self-defense. A good traditional martial art taught by an insightful instructor can typically satisfy most, if not all, of those goals. However, when it comes to pure self-defense and fighting skill, traditional martial arts are usually not the most efficient path to the goal.

Let’s think about it logically. First of all, ALL martial arts were developed by someone. In many cases, that “someone” had trained in some other art and then decided to change or combine the elements that he had learned to make his method better (or at least different). If we accept that truth, the concept of “mixed martial arts” actually becomes old hat. More importantly, we begin to understand that exploring, understanding, and redefining the most efficient and effective ways to fight is a never ending process–just as it should be.

However, if we put this into the context of the traditional martial arts, there is a serious disconnect. Let’s say that some guy develops a martial art, gives it a name, and attracts a bunch of students. While he’s alive, he continues to practice, train, think, and innovate and keeps the art and its evolution alive. His students love it and grow with the art and its instructor. Then, he dies. At that point, the students decide to “honor” him by documenting his teachings and his system. They focus on codifying everything he said and institutionalizing it. If they disagree (as they usually will), some students break off and start their own schools with their own interpretation of their teacher’s system.

If you study the martial arts to experience or preserve a culture, all that is fine. If in the process, you learn some usable self-defense technique, even better. However, you must realize that what is lost by this process is the teacher’s original spirit of and commitment to growth, learning, and evolution.

Let’s face it, people have been kicking each other’s asses for a long time. It’s highly unlikely that you will develop a proprietary, never-before-seen method of ass kicking that someone else hasn’t done before. That’s fine. What you can develop and refine, however, is the method of teaching that technique, training that technique, or applying that technique to situations beyond its original scope. That’s the kind of growth and evolution that all arts–and all practitioners–need.

As I write this, my good friend Mike Rigg has just completed the editing of Martial Blade Concepts–The Enhanced Version. This DVD is a revamped version of the original title, featuring about 50% more material. Why? Because since I shot and edited the original version, I have continued to learn and evolve. I have also had the benefit of feedback from hundreds of students who have trained with me and viewed the original version of that video. I am very happy to say that the vast majority of that feedback was positive. What they felt was missing, however, was an explanation of how that material related to my other DVDs (like the Fighting Folders series) and instruction on methods that they could use to train without a partner. The core information and material was still good. The overall scope needed to be more complete. So we made it evolve to meet the needs.

If the “art” (or my ego) were more important than serving the needs of my students, I could have left it the way it was. If I was lazy, complacent, and self-important, I also could have settled for the old version. Either way, I lose and my students lose.

Believe me, it’s tough teaching an experienced student and telling him”I don’t do it that way anymore.” However, as long as you follow that statement with “I do it this way now because ____ works better,” you’re good. In fact, you’re better than good–you’ve evolved.

Another famous MBC saying is: “The more you learn, the less you know.” Strive for understanding. Relate the things you know and find the common ground between them. Then apply those skills to as many different situational problems as you can and adapt your training to be functional in those situations. That’s the kind of martial arts legacy I’d like to leave when my time is up.

Stay safe,

Mike

P.S. As you can tell from the lapse between posts, I am not a “bloggy” kinda guy. The idea of pontificating just to be saying/typing something doesn’t make sense. However, based on feedback from people who’ve read this blog, I realize that it is providing a service and folks seem to like what I’m sharing. As such, I’ll try to be more regular in my posts.

P.P.S. Martial Blade Concepts–The Enhanced Version is on the shelf now and available exclusively from Stay Safe Media at www.staysafemedia.com.