Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Big Picture - Training Martial Arts and Self-Defense by Badger Johnson

Let’s try and break down the martial arts/self-defense/physical training into some large concepts.

Big Picture elements:
Layering your defense methods, for example in the home having motion-control lighting, improved entryways and upgraded window treatments, removing obstructions and so forth. You want to analyze your systems from the top down, from the bottom up, and from the 10,000 foot view and also the low level analysis of details every once in a while. Your system should look like a pyramid, or a dynamic pyramid, which has life-long base training at the bottom and specific techniques or methods at the top, and all of them energized and synergized by the parts which are below and support them (tracking, base-training, physical attribute training, competition, and so forth).

Find the best, sustainable options for improving self-protection and training.
Making the most of your training elements by tracking and journaling.
Being able to critique methods and to self-critique and how often to do it and why it’s important (we tend to have trouble seeing our own faults).

Learning how to see deeply. Better than reading what various martial masters from the past, like Musashi or Sun Tzu, is to learn how to see below the surface yourself. See my essay on ‘Seeing Deeply’ on Stickgrappler’s page.

The Method
One of the best training regimes is the methods of Dog Brother Benjamin Rittiner (Lonely Dog) which is very specific and very effective and even though he focuses on stick fighting it’s adaptable across the board.

It’s important to learn the best way to do solo training, because most of the time you will be training alone except for grapplers, obviously. It’s also important to learn how to work best with training partners. In the realm of what gives the most bang for the buck, be aware that consistency is the most important element, followed closely by frequency and sustainability and these trump what people often focus on which is duration and intensity these last two often being overestimated.

However, you need to know how to be consistent and at the other end when and how much to have intensity.

Another important element is finding a way to get feedback on your training. Nowadays we have performance gear, timers and impact trainers and other things, we have a myriad of training bags and pads and torso-shaped targets. In addition, part of tracking and journaling are needed to get an over-all picture of where you’ve been and where you’re going.

Self-Coaching. I’ve already written an essay on self-coaching and this includes things like learning how to taper and peak for any competitive events either formal or informal things (like fun runs or recreational gaming), how to recover from training and injuries. When you get an injury journal about it and it will help if it comes up again.

As you track your training on a spreadsheet or other tool, you’ll find trends and see if you are improving or not. By tracking I see that I have a period of improvement where I peak about four times a year and have a super-peak about twice a year during a seven day a week training regime (including hard and easy days).

You should be doing monthly or yearly re-analysis of your methods and even throwing out everything and trying something else or building up something else. This took me for just martial arts to jogging and biking and swimming and Filipino martial arts (weapons).

The Mode
The mode is using a template of Systems Management methods and Delivery System analysis tracking to design your training. You can write out a spreadsheet, for example and record your thoughts on what is your delivery system for accomplishing a goal or a technique or a method. How do I get a takedown? The delivery system includes training with wrestlers, learning how to lower your level, time your insertion with a penetration step and get the takedown. The delivery system for improving your timing might include speed-bag work, flow drills and using reflex timers. You can think up your own methods, but the point is that every part of your method has to include the path to success and that means there’s a delivery system. The concept (conceived by Matt Thornton) is defined as the method both concrete and conceptual that takes you from plan to goal. If you don’t know the correct delivery system then your self-analysis is incomplete.

You must ask “What am I trying to accomplish?” This is a very big question.
  • Am I trying to hide behind a poor sense of self-worth?
  • Am I actually being a bully (wanting to control or beat others), or am I reacting to bullying?
  • Am I finding a threat where there is none (modern society)?
  • Am I training too hard or too casually and how to know this (threat analysis)?
Besides being based on delivery systems, the training and methods must have high specificity, precision and be highly adaptable and be built on the individual innate skills and abilities.

The Analysis
How do we analyze our training? It takes a combination of experimentation, experience and study and stress-testing, with an eye to how to do time-management. We can go all out but that’s not sustainable.

How to we analyze the threat? Is there really a need for self-defense or is this really just a hobby? If it is determined to be a hobby that does not mean that you can’t go at it with a full press effort. But it also puts it in perspective. It can let you know that there might be other important things to do such as anger-management, de-escalation, avoidance, awareness, conflict resolution and it’s important to look at these things as well.

Do I have a serious self-defense need such that all this physical training is necessary? If this is the case it might be a good idea to investigate firearms training and weapons training. You should be doing drills in the home involving everyone and giving them a role and instructions on what to do. If you are in a low crime area and never had a threat then you can reduce some of the emphasis on this and view it more as a hobby, but that’s no reason to be haphazard in your approach.

You can’t analyze in a vacuum. So you can’t do self-defense training in a vacuum where you go to a class three times a week and think ‘OK, I’m covered’. Have you done a threat analysis? Where do you live, how safe is your locale, who needs protecting, who is vulnerable and how. Using a spreadsheet to help you analyze this or journaling to brain-storm are good ways to do this assessment.

Behavioral Aspects
Am I a person who is able to ‘keep to the task’ and go for the long run? If not how do I change my ideas so that I can take the long view. It’s better to be efficient and consistent enough so that in 20-30 years down the road than be one of those great athletes as a kid and then get fat and out of shape in later years, when as an elderly person you will need healthy habits and stuff and have neglected all that to try to be a physical specimen in your youth and give it up later. Many military guys go this route having been as high as being a SEAL as a soldier and end up in later life being out of shape and in a sad state. I suspect part of this is the duration and intensity is so high during their regime that they can’t sustain it. This is where I got the idea of sustainability by the way.

Training, Coaching and Partnering
I’m a firm believer that though you will probably be doing this all by yourself for a majority of the time, it’s the best possible if you can partner up. That’s a training partner or group, and a life partner who can spend some time working in a Self-Defense mode as a partner, say with firearms or weapons or practicing drills at home (like you do a home fire drill for your family). In fact, as I’ve said in other essays, you can even recruit a partner on the fly (for example asking a store manager to have someone walk you to your car).

How to create habits.
Part of creating habits is to learn how to journal. You cannot see your progress from three weeks ago when you look at the current time. It’s hard to remember. So with the advent of computers and online stuff it’s so much easier to journal than when we had to write stuff down in a notebook. I can’t emphasize this enough. It’s been journaling over the years and tracking my workouts which helped me many times to not miss a workout because I didn’t want a blank page in my training journal.

How to analyze what you are doing and how to see your progress
This goes back to journaling and tracking your thoughts, the evolution of your ideation, your training and all that you are doing. Are you working everyday on base training? Are you analyzing your training to improve specificity and precision? Are you mindful of how you peak and improve and are you seeing overtraining or are you on track? Most people who are training consistently and frequently will discover a system of peaks which is called ‘super-compensation’ where you improve then have a slight dip in performance and then have a super-peak. This is common knowledge among track athletes. Tapering and peaking are specific to the type of sport or activity.

How to deal with self-sabotage and negativity
We all self-sabotage and it’s very hard to see. You have to work at learning to spot it. You will have negativity and you will self-sabotage so leaning how to recover and get back on plan and back on track is just as important a skill as how to perform any individual technique.

Along with reanalyzing your methods and practices periodically, be sure to step back and look at your life in general. Are you happy with good relationships and good financial management and not neglecting other areas of your life, in other words, becoming a gym rat type of trainer can be compelling but you have to be on guard that you are not hiding from life by obsessing on your training? Likewise, you can hide from the training you know you should be doing by over-emphasizing the needs of your daily life (poor time management and making excuses).

If you have a problem, such as making excuses, you can deal with that head-on by using your journaling. For example: I’ve been making excuses not to train. What are three hypothetical ways for getting around this problem? Brainstorm but don’t pressure yourself at first. Sometimes the answers to ‘self-sabotaging’ can dawn on you.

One thing that was always on my mind is ‘Wouldn’t it be great to be a black belt in personal finance and not just a gym rat?’. I finally achieved this at the advanced age of about 60 years old when I learned how to do online banking and how to deal with buying my own house and saving money. I’m still only a beginning blackbelt in finance since I’m not good at investing (except in property investment), but it’s a far cry from my youth when I’d almost focus on training in order to ignore real life. I would pile up my bills on a table unopened and once had to have a bail out for my student loans. It made me feel a lot more well-rounded and part of the solution harkens back to my other topic about partnering. It’s important to have your partner be a good team player in managing your money and be able to handle their finances and even, as in my case, teach me her methods.

More important than all training and practice is to have an on-going plan leading to self-mastery. That includes anger management, learning good habits, team work, and having a moral platform that you make up yourself (not copy from a popular book or something).

You might have great athletic skills but if you haven’t learned how to manage your anger you are going to self-sabotage. If you still keep up with bad habits that lessen your training progress then you are not going to be able to be consistent and sustain your path.

Unlike what some people who train martial arts might imply, you are not in this to learn to dominate others. You want to learn how to dominate yourself, your fears, your weaknesses your short-comings and over time be better than you were at the start. You win a much bigger battle by learning how to self-master than you ever will by trying to beat other people, or be overly concerned with competing.

Testing your methods
It’s important to test your assumptions, your methods and your progress. You want to have high specificity, as high as possible precision and it has to reliably give you the results you want (maximizing your training dollar), you want it to be logical and sustainable (something you can do over a long period of time and maintain interest).

You might do something as basic as set up a spreadsheet, which will help your cognitive process and then after filling in things you want to get from your training and then be able to sit back and look at it.

Part of the lesson of the difficulty of self-coaching is getting that 10,000 foot view and being able to honestly see yourself. You also want to find a way to monitor what you are also spending time on other important areas in your life because being balanced and well-rounded is also important in the whole area of being able to protect yourself and your family.

Using a spreadsheet approach, I would put the big attributes across the top such as I said above, precision, accuracy, specificity, repeatability, sustainability, feedback, stress-testing, or whatever you think might have impact on what you’re doing. You might also want to track the areas of weakness or ‘holes in your game’. If you can’t find some aspects, such as training with a lot of partners there might be ways you can figure out to fill those such as playing a sport even things like table tennis or handball or pickup basketball games, pool, card playing (strategy) to fill some of those gaps. I think it’s important to have some competition there even if it’s what I did which was compete in 10K fun runs. I had to prep and peak for those events and therefore it added to my martial arts game. What you’re doing with tracking is using a systematic method of giving yourself feedback. It takes time to learn this so I’d say just start doing it. Everyone has a computer and can find a free version of a spreadsheet or a journaling app. I used to use Fitday a lot because there’s a notes pages which is linked to a calendar.

Cross-sport adaptability
One thing I liked to do was look at other sports and activities and say to myself ‘What are they doing that I can adapt to my training in martial arts or other fitness methods?’. A trivial example is I might see track athletes running stairs. I say to myself, ‘Hey, maybe running stairs would be a good way to improve my chambering for kicking?’. I might see swimmers doing breath hold methods and think, ‘Hey maybe breath-hold training would help me?’ (Note that MMA star BJ Penn did significant breath-hold training in his MMA career).

Positive and negative self-talk
I’ve talked about this in other essays but both positive and negative self-talk (self-goading as motivation) are important. You have to find out what part of these are important. Some people do better with positive self-talk some include a sprinkling of negative self-talk (sort of making yourself ‘mad’, for example saying ‘you’ll never run a mile in 6 minutes…’the hell I won’t’ (to the ego)).

I’m including an online discussion I had with Stickgrappler to round out the gist of this essay:

So one of the things that is missing from 'martial activities', be it practice, or method, or understanding or all those things is that this whole area is multi-factorial. One example is looking at, reading about and trying to get some understanding if not skill in body language analysis. In other words, anyone talking about self-defense and not talking about types of opponents and how to tell if you're in danger (or not) is missing a huge part of the equation.

Back in the day we had people who were band nerds in a big class wearing white pajamas, throwing strikes in the air taught by people who had never had a fight. We thought we were "learning how to fight". It couldn't be further from the truth.

Could SOME of these people fight and win? Yeah there were some tough guys who somehow got into the class and weren't on the football team for whatever reason but they weren't fight winners because of the white pajama brigade stuff. We all bought into the idea back then that a collection of tricks would allow us to fight with big tough guys who were athletic. It’s a myth. You need to use things like leverage and timing and precise training and competition to do this.

So in taking the big picture, we have to analyze more than just 'what am I doing in a physical sense' as to how is self-defense made up and how to 'do it' best.

We need a Lonely Dog (Benjamin Rittiner) type training regime for when it's solo, which is it going to be 99% of the time. We need a layered defense. We need partnering up training with a partner. We need to understand the opponent. We need to understand and master ourselves. We need to understand what tools we have, what tools we can cultivate and how to maximize our training dollar.

We need to be able to self-critique and see where we have behaviors or methods which are ineffective or even working against us. We need to know how to self-coach and how to practice self-coaching in specific ways.

Well-rounded. Ground view as well as 10,000 foot view. We also need to 'model' successful behavior without being self-deluding too much. (a little self-delusion is OK especially in the beginning).

So in effect people who go to seminars and collect certificates and wear camouflage and have a weapons room and drive around looking for trouble are not the way to go even though that's the standard thing now. Watching movies and trying to be a superhero. It's a person who is not serious about their self-defense or self-improvement needs.

It's so hard to see where you are doing the wrong thing, though it's pretty easy to see it in others, as Robert Burns said, and we are our worst enemy, although mostly in small ways as Walt Kelly (Pogo) said. And furthermore it's a constant vigilance to guard against these pitfalls, because we get lazy and they creep back in. We lose focus, we can't sustain, and we backslide, gain weight, get out of shape.

The reason is that nobody, or few people can be in a state of heightened vigilance and they revert to that which is easy.

You can guard against this by having a program element which you CAN sustain over a long period of time with not a huge amount of effort, for example riding your bike to work (at least 5-10 miles) every day.

© Badger A.Johnson
September 15, 2020
Essay to Stickgrappler’s page.

Please check out Badger Johnson's other essays:



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