Keep it simple and stay alive

Keep it simple and stay alive

My last article addressed the approach to training and what should be thought about and done, regardless of the discipline. In this article, we’ll focus on the kind of training, how to focus on street survival and any lurking pitfalls.

It’s quite possible that the most critical moment of dealing with an attack is the moment of recognition. That is, the moment when you realise that you are being, or are about to be, attacked. If you apply the awareness colour code that I shared in my previous article, you should see it coming and have the opportunity to escape.

In fact, your Number One priority should be to escape. Even in the event of an attack taking you by surprise, you still can determine the outcome by your reaction. Your highest chance of success is to have a plan in place, and to train according to that plan.

In an earlier article, I went through the MAC process (Move, Assess, communicate). This should be the foundation of your plan. If you have space, MAC will help you to either keep that space, persuading the criminal to leave, perhaps buy you time to escape, or create the opportunity to act offensively.

Have a default action and a default reaction. Know what you are going to do because it will make it that much easier to carry it through. First prize is either the attacker of yourself leaving the scene. However, if you have to act, what will you do? If the attacker attacks first, what will your response be?

The Gracie family took the martial arts world by storm back in the early 1980’s and 1990’s, beating everyone from Karate to Kung-Fu, and from wrestlers to boxers. Was their ongoing success due to a set of special techniques? Was it because they were superhuman? No! It was simply because they had a philosophy of how to win a fight, plus they were the first martial artists to have a plan.

Most martial arts wait for something to happen and then react. The Gracies knew that they wanted to get the fight onto the floor, and they had a plan to get it there. They executed their plan and 99.9% of the time, it worked.

Having a plan will help your brain function under the stress of a fight or any interaction with criminal elements. The ‘Fight, Flight or Freeze’ response is wired into us on a very primitive level. ‘Flight’ is the strongest of these instincts. That makes sense because your highest chance of escaping injury is to avoid physical combat.

If escape is impossible, you must choose between ‘Fight’ or ‘Freeze’. If an attacker approaches with an arm extended towards your head, then your brain will automatically look for an appropriate response. If you have a plan, your conscious thought process is to select that plan and initiate action, all in milliseconds.

Take too long, as in not having a plan and subsequently being unprepared, and the attacker will simply leave you to play catch-up. A brain without a plan is a brain that freezes, which means you become a victim, where after the fight is over.

However, keep the plan simple. When teaching students, I describe a fight as being like climbing a tree. If you stand at the bottom of the tree and look at all the layers of branches in an attempt to decide how you are going to get to the top, it’s likely that you’ll get lost in contemplating all the possibilities.

If you start climbing, things may well change as you climb. If you stand and only look at the trunk and make a  plan to get to the first branch, it’s most likely that the rest will sort itself out and become clearer as you continue to climb.

I have been very fortunate over the years to have trained with people from five different Special Forces units around the world. ‘Keep it stupid simple’ is such a universal axiom that it’s even used by the British SAS, albeit with a slight adaptation. “Keep it so simple a stupid person could do it’.

There are many similarities between what these desperate units do. If it’s simple and it works, then everyone should do it. Over and above this, I have noticed that what they all do extraordinarily well is fundamental to all of them. There is no over-complication to what they do, and I say no more, I really mean no more.

What makes them different from everyone else is that they never, ever get the basics wrong. I guess it could be likened to the more moving parts that comprise your technique, the greater the probability of something going wrong and disrupting it.

I once trained with a recruit fresh from an Israeli Recon unit, a specialist in unarmed combat. I asked him to show me his unit’s ‘pistil disarm technique’, but he said I would be disappointed. I replied that, on the contrary, I would be delighted.

He suggested that I should don a protective helmet for safety and use a training (dummy) gun. I put on the helmet and pointed the gun at his head. His reaction definitely surprised me, for when he grabbed the gun, he punched me in the face. After a short recovery, I said: “That was cool, but you didn’t step off the line of the weapon.”

His reply surprised me even more than the punch in the face. “No, you don’t need to step off the line of the weapon, because we’ve proved that someone can grab the gun and move it before the attacker can pull the trigger.” All I could think was, “I wonder who draw the short straw in proving that?” the point is that his routine was simple to remember and execute. It simply couldn’t fail.

The kicker though is that human nature seeks ever more complicated solutions. From a fighting point of view, we are likely influenced by movies to pursue what looks impressive and possibly unnecessarily complex. We see this in many martial arts. Ju Jitsu as practiced by Samurai warriors was remarkably simpler than the variant we observe today.

Instead of solving a problem with a simple and effective solution, we are influenced by contrary opinion and thereby complicate the sequence. Practice your simple, effective plan and avoid analysis paralysis. A top combat instructor told me that the mark of an advanced student is one who can flawlessly apply the fundamentals in the face of noise, chaos and fright.

In your practice sessions, concentrate on the hardest, most demanding training that you can manage. Consistency will deliver smooth and powerful technique. “It’s much harder,” as Bruce Lee said, “to be the man who practiced one kick 10 000 times, than to be the one who practiced 10 000 kicks once.”

Practice bing hit (albeit safely). If the first time you are hit is in the street, it’s highly likely that moment will be the end of your fight. If you are repeatedly hit in training, you’ll get used to it. A hit in the street will blend into your expectations, it will summon your reflexes and release an effective sequence in response. You can’t be too fit for a fight. Consider a gunfight, if you came out victorious, you’d never think, “Wow, my gun was just too big for that”, or that “I had too much ammo.”

In a situation where you are in fear, you are going to get a huge adrenaline boost. There are many consequences of this, one of which is that your heart rate will go through the roof. In this regard, 145 beats per minute would not be unusual. Your heart will be racing, you will be out of breath and only gross motor function will remain. As someone said to me: “No threading needles in a gunfight.” Over the last few months, I have seen an alarming increase in videos of people carrying out gun disarms with their partner, using a real and loaded gun, or knife defense with real knives. Apart from the obvious danger of being shot or stabbed, this simply isn’t realistic. Your training partner holding that loaded pistol or sharp knife is simply not going to attack with the same force as would a criminal in the street.

Even subconsciously, there will be a degree of holding back, of knowing what is coming next, which translates into a lack of conviction. I have found that if I am using a dummy knife or simulation pistol (with the correct protective clothing, of course), I am aggressively committed to the attack, which is therefore much more realistic.

When you train, finish the technique or scenario that you are rehearsing in the manner that you would want to see it concluded in reality. If you are training with pepper spray, get your partner to behave as if they have just been ‘pepper sprayed.’

If you carry out a gun disarm, don’t finish by giving the gun back to your partner. Instead, drop the gun and access your own training pistol, simply because you know the condition of your pistol and not his. Move, drop his pistol, get yours out and issue assertive verbal commands.

Have your training partner get down on his knees with his hands on his head or get him to go for the one you have dropped, and then consider the decisions you might need to take. Avoid finishing any scenario by praising yourself unnecessarily until you have carried out the technique all the way to its conclusion.

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