Tempering Pressure During Training

Awhile ago I wrote a piece on “what is Pressure Testing” and how do you know what it entails. I thought it was pretty straight forward. It was fairly simple and  quick reference guide for people out there training to help them navigate or even avoid entirely poor practices. Apparently however, a lot of people like to make straw men arguments and add in things I never wrote.


One of those things was how to actual conduct pressure training, and another attack was that you can’t do that full out all the time. Well, no duh. I never said you should. Nowhere in the previous article was advice on implementing it into a program. It was all a basic “how do we define what this is” attempt. Nothing more.


So in an effort to address those things in an obvious manner and in a way to keep people from making straw man arguments, here is a video of a short talk I give at the beginning of all my seminars. There, I most assuredly give directions on how we are going to do the pressure testing, and how we are going to make sure we do so in as a safe a manner as possible. I have a damn fine track record in that, and this approach is part of the reason why.


The Competition Machine

Norman Triplett was a social psychologist who wanted to look at the effects of competition on people. To eliminate all variables that come up in typical sporting endeavors, he created a specialized apparatus. It was a winding wheel that pulled a long rope. He put hundreds of people through the experiment, with ages ranging from 9 years old up to middle aged people. He had them do a certain number of runs against the clock, and then equal runs against another person in a race.


The results? 50% of the participants did better when they went against someone then against the clock, 25% did no different regardless of situation, and 25% did worse against another person than against the impersonal-ness of the timer. So we know, without a doubt, that competition is really beneficial for the majority of people, and only ¼ is it harmful. And to those it is harmful tend to have other mental and emotional issues going on.


The hilarious part to me? This study was done in 1898! For over 120 years, we have had actual proof that competition is good, and yet here we are it the 21st century, with some people still arguing that competition will “get ya kilt in da streetz.” The simple fact is that competition helps you perform at a higher level. Period.


Weird how when you actually put on your critical thinking cap   things start to make sense.

Pressure Testing redux

I originally wrote the following article a few years ago. It still says everything I want/need to say on the subject, and I re-post it here after running into the same problem this past weekend that caused me to write the original piece. Too many people throw around the term “pressure testing” without a single clue as to how to define it. And, as such, practitioners are given credit for pressure testing when in reality they are doing nothing of the sort. So I re-post this hoping new people take advantage.


We need to ask ourselves ; “Why do the techniques advocated here:”


“Not look anything like what is working here? ” :



The answer is that these two separate groups are not testing their material the same way. They might use the same language, but it does not necessarily mean the same things.

It seems that in today’s training community, everybody throws around the term “pressure testing” in order to justify the functionality of their method or technique. What is usually meant by pressure testing? Generally, it refers to some kind of force-on-force training where two or more people can actually apply techniques with energy that simulates real world conditions and situations. Unfortunately, like the quote from The Princess Bride “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means”, most of them really don’t use it correctly. Rather than being an objective standard, it has too often become whatever the person wants it to mean as long as they look good. For it to have true worth, we have to have a defined standard of measure. Then, we can use it as a way to judge.

The most amusing part of all this to me is that I was part of the martial arts world in the early to mid-eighties when the term first started getting thrown around, and the outcry and antagonism towards that concept by many of the ones who today try to hijack the phrase makes me laugh.

One of the most prominent and public, especially in the U.S. of those who first advocated the need to pressure test was Bruce Lee. He ruffled a lot of traditionalist’s feathers when he compared most typical training methods to be like learning to swim on dry land. He wrote and lectured many times on the need to put some gear on and actually – GASP! – fight. Another early proponent was Jon Bluming, who had years of hardcore judo and kyokushinkai karate and was actually one of the first to talk about what we now term MMA. Unfortunately, since he was based in Europe, a lot of what he taught and wrote didn’t have the impact in the U.S. that Lee did. After Lee’s death, some of his students such as Dan Inosanto continued his teachings and ideas, and through some of Inosanto’s students like Paul Vunak, more and more people became exposed to this idea. And, with the arrival of Gracie Jiu-jitsu and its open challenge, and then the first Ultimate Fighting Championship, the concept exploded.

Still, even then, for years afterwards, many martial artists tried to dismiss any use of the idea of pressure testing as a needed component. One magazine columnist in particular, who now writes a monthly MMA column, derided all things MMA up into 2004! However, with the internet, DVDs, and social media, it became easy for the most inexperienced layman to understand the powerful need to pressure test. And so, even most of the die-hard haters have had to adjust their own presentation. However, as I said earlier, they do not always understand what they are trying to do, or even worse, intentionally try to subvert the principle. So how do we know if their testing actually meets the standard? Here are some easy to follow and understand guidelines. There are four basic components that must be present.

First, let me say that the following is based on years of study and research, and involved a number of gifted and talented instructors and fighters, who coalesce around the finest internet discussion forum, Total Protection Interactive (www.totalprotectioninteractive.com), and who were gathered together by Craig Douglas, also known as “Southnarc”. The group consists of people such as Paul Sharp (http://sharpdefense.wordpress.com/), Larry Lindenman, Chris Fry (http://www.mdtstraining.com/), Claude Werner (http://www.dryfire-practice.com/), Ryan Mayfield, Paul Gomez (RIP), and others, as well as myself. So while I had a small part in the following formulation, it was very much a group effort.

Resisting Opponent
The first principle of pressure testing that must be adhered to is that we need a resisting opponent. This is the base from where everything comes from. It also seems to be very intuitive. If we want to test whether our technique or concept works against resistance, we need to have someone provide that resistance! The problem is this is where most people start and end. While physical resistance is a key factor, it is only one piece of the puzzle.

Opposing Will
The second feature is opposing will. By this I mean an active attempt at preventing an action from occurring. Not just physical resistance, but mental resistance as well. If we use a technique such as an empty hand response to a knife attack for instance, it is not enough that the “bad guy” tries to physically mimic a real attack; he has to commit himself to said attack.

Malevolent Intent
The third component is malevolent intent. This is a term I first heard used by a LEO whose TPI moniker is KIT. It perfectly describes that beyond the mental and physical resistance our training partner has to give us, he also must want us to lose. Not just make us fail by our technique not working, but by us having to suffer a visible loss. In the case of the knife counter from above, our training partner must be trying to defeat our technique and put us in a position where he can repeatedly “stab” us. It is not enough to stop the technique, but he must also want to crush us. If he can succeed in doing so, he demonstrates it clearly that our whole concept/technique/method is in error.

Freedom of Action
The fourth and final part is freedom of action. In my opinion, this is the biggest aspect that many proponents of pressure testing miss. We can have all the prior components in place, but if all we allow our adversary to do is a finite number of things, are we really being true to the problem? For example, in the 90’s, it was really popular with the traditional martial art crowd to show how easy it was for their art to handle a grappler. The typical photo layout had the “good guy” standing ready to go while the evil grappler almost always shot in for a double leg takedown, and the good guy used his favorite technique to stifle the attack. The problem with this (outside of the fact that the “grappler” never seemed to know how to properly execute the takedown) was that the defender was only defending against a single and known move. If the grappler had also been allowed to throw strikes as an example, the difficulty would have increased exponentially, to the point that the defense would very likely to become overwhelmed. To truly test our methods under real world pressure, we have to simulate the real world, including the fact that we cannot know what are our opponent is going to do! It is a simple idea, yet every time I get into a debate about it, almost no one takes this into account. Somehow, they believe they will always be able to sense the attack and respond accordingly, like some kind of real life Jedi Knight. Unfortunately, that won’t happen, and to rely on it is to set yourself up for failure.

To sum up, if your pressure testing does not have all four of these components, you are not truly pressure testing. If you can conclusively show you put your favored technique/method/system/skill through this prism, then you can probably stand up to any scrutiny.

Defending Against a Weapon Attack – A Visual Study

A couple of weeks ago, I was sent a video showing an older gentleman being attacked with a knife by a younger, bigger man. I am not 100% sure of the context, but from all appearances, it looked like the older person was a worker at a jewelry store that the younger man tries to rob. Take a look:


There is a lot going on here. A number of my friends on Facebook talked about this video and made some comments that were repeated by different people. One of them, obviously, is how cool it was for the old dude to fight so hard. Rather than give up, he did everything he could to survive. We can all agree on that. One of the other comments though gave me pause. That comment generally followed the line of “he should have used the knife like x, y, or z to win the fight”. While that on the surface sounds good, it wildly misses the point. And that is what I want to cover in this article.

It is a crucial problem, yet one that comes up over again and people keep missing – that of the fixation on the tool to solve the problem. The knife is NOT the overwhelming problem at this moment. The overwhelming problem is that the defender has no control over the limbs of the bad guy. And so said limbs can do whatever it is they see fit to do – in this case, stab. The tool is just that, a tool. What is making it dangerous are the limbs powering it. Notice how the assault starts to change at the: 19 second mark. Why? Because the good guy manages to get a grasp on the knife arm, and the bad guy’s other arm is uselessly wrapped around the good guy’s head. Then notice the next major part at the 1:18 mark. The good guy now has the tool and gets in a couple of good thrusts. Why was he successful? Because his limbs were free due to the bad guy holding onto to a dumb headlock. Then, it changed again when the bad guy grabbed GG’s knife arm. Then comes a lengthy involvement where many of my friends talked about how if old tough dude just stabbed the right way, the fight would have turned out different. Sure, but why did he not use the knife well? Mostly because both people had essentially equal control over the other, but the BG was younger and bigger so he could negate much of the weapon use.  That became even more apparent when the fight broke off and went to a slightly longer range where BG could actually move away and throw punches. When there is no dominant positional control, the fight goes to whoever has the superior attributes. Fortunately, BG decided that he was having too tough a transaction and got out leaving the older gentleman to seemingly be okay.


Now let’s look at a somewhat similar incident that turned out even better, and try to see why that was the case.




Similar circumstances – unarmed good guy versus knife wielding bad guy. Why though in the second video did the fight work out so well for the good guy? Yes, he started with catching the BG by surprise and hitting him with a chair, but it sure didn’t seem to have that much impact of the BG. So the chair from behind, while helpful, was not the main reason for the success. What was? Dominant positional control. Whether through design or luck, the GG managed to get to the bad guy’s back and stay there. He even put Mr. Knifer on the floor and put downwards pressure to keep him there, all of which made it nearly impossible for the knife to be used with any effect and was for all intents and purposes a very good way of controlling the bad guy’s attacking limbs.. All in all, an excellent example of positional dominance trumping the weapon. This is what we need to strive for in an entanglement with a weapon either in play, or there is a possibility of a weapon coming into play. Don’t overly fixate on the tool as the magic talisman that will solve all problems. Make sure it can’t be used first, then that you have freedom to do what you want to do, and only then does using a weapon yourself make any sense.

We do need to be mindful of what the weapon is doing and ensure that it is not being able to be used effectively against us, but the best, most reliable, and most consistent way to do that is control the position and the other person’s limbs. Do that and you go a long way to staying safe.

Emphasize The Fun!


Why don’t more people actively train in self-defense oriented activities?


This is something that many people in the training community have been talking a lot about. Karl Rehn of KR Training wrote a fascinating study (check the first part out here:  http://blog.krtraining.com/beyond-the-one-percent-part-1/  ) where he looked at how many people who took the time to get a Texas concealed carry permit then followed up with more training. His estimate, based on a ton of sources and data, was that one percent (1%) goes on to do either other training, or shoot in organized competitions. That is simply stunning, especially considering the popular notion that Texans are all carrying guns and go shooting all the time. Other experienced trainers such as Tom Givens of Rangemaster have said similar things based on how much they travel around and conduct coursework.


It is probable that more people train in some form of martial art with the express purpose of self-defense (after all, that is the main role of martial arts traditionally), but even then, the numbers are not huge. It is rare to see any kind of martial art school have more than a couple of hundred students at the maximum.


And we all know of most of our family or friends who join a fitness gym every January 1st, only to quit soon after.


So what is the problem? Why aren’t more people joining in and becoming more capable and more dangerous? While there are probably a number of reasons, I strongly feel one of the biggest is a perceived lack of fun and enjoyment.


Face it. One of the reasons we are apt to do certain things is that there is a component of fun. Having fun creates a positive feedback loop that keeps us coming back for more. If a task is drudgery, even if it is seen as beneficial to us, there is little incentive to jump into it with full vigor and focus. Pretty much anyone who smokes knows it is bad for you, but trying to quit is sheer misery for almost everyone. That is why there is such a high recidivism rate. We need to enjoy on some level the process we are in.

Unfortunately, the training community tends to sell the value of training as “you will get kilt in da streetz if you don’t take xxxx training course!” or “your family will die a horrible death from a criminal predator if you don’t carry your Callahan Fullbore Autolock (nerd reference!)!” I myself have been guilty of this as well. None of us are immune. But we need to move away from Einstein’s definition of insanity – doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. If we are only reaching 1% of the population, then we are doing it wrong.


In my weekly classes I teach, one of the things that sold most of the new people who signed up was seeing how much fun the other students were having. The prospective person saw a large group working really hard at choking each other out, but also saw how big the smiles were on both parties face. Why would you not want to join in on something so obviously joyful? Once that lesson sunk in enough times with me, I realized that is a good avenue to pursue.


Let us go out and show everyone that when we are on the BJJ mats, in the weight room, on the shooting range, or doing a demanding training course like Craig Douglas’ ECQC or Mike Pannone’s Covert Pistol Carry, that regardless of outcome, we are having a great time! Put up pictures of people laughing and smiling, even if they are dirty and bedraggled and obviously worn out. That is what will help reach the rest of the public and convince them it is a good idea to step into this world. Not one more picture of some tatted up, bearded dude all decked out in Crye and showing off how cool he feels with that weapon in his hand. Or that example of that Guru trainer who thinks he has all the answers and anyone who dares thinks otherwise is a wuss.

Don’t present the image of the warrior at war with the universe, but the average person having a good time while working to become more capable, more dangerous, and just a general all around better person. That is what will make those “outside our world” pay attention. Don’t scare them, or berate them, but show them this lifestyle is just plain rocking fun!

The Counting Game


One of the buzz terms in the self-defense/tactical communities is “situational awareness”. Everyone, from instructors on down to the newest students talk about it and emphasize that it is one of the most important things we can have going for us to keep us safe. No one in their right mind will argue this. The problem is how we put it into practice?


Seriously, this is one of the biggest issues we face. Awareness is not a verb, yet we treat it like it is. How do we ensure that we are aware when we need to be? It is all well and good to tell someone to be aware and switched on, but that is like saying “be a good shooter”. How do we accomplish that task?


A number of top instructors spend time on this and there are different takes, most of which are valid and functional. I would like to present one that has proven to be really useful for me, as well as a number of people who I have taught it to, including members of my immediate family. It is an easy way to build the habit of situational awareness, and it does so by keeping us alert in the most vulnerable times in our life.


I call it the Counting Game. The way it works is this: every time you leave a building – any kind of building, from your place of work, to a grocery store, bank, restaurant, etc. – you need to count how many people you see. That’s it. Just count them up. It takes only a few seconds, at most, and even then that would only be on occasion, such as leaving the shopping mall during the Christmas season. Most of the time it is the work of one to two seconds at best. Easy to do, and easy to remember, and it does not take any special training. We are not asking you to see the potential bad guys, or judge actions. Just count.


So what does that give us? Multiple things. For one, we immediately know who is around us, fulfilling part of Givens’ Law (who is around us and what are they doing?). Second, by making sure we actually count, we have to pay attention to what is beyond our head and keeps us from burying our nose in a Smartphone or something similar that puts blinders on us. Third, it tells potential bad guys who are doing their own scan that we are paying attention and have seen them, even momentarily. That is one of the biggest ways to get yourself deselected as a victim. Bad guys prefer if they can get close without notice first. Being seen by the victim from across the parking lot is not good for business, especially when there are plenty of people behind you who will not be paying attention. And fourth, it starts to let our subconscious start to make thin-slicing judgments of what we have seen – i.e. “That guy was standing back by that wall in partial darkness. Why?” (Allowing that instinctive part of our brains to continue to listen to Givens’ Law). Which further helps being aware of the situation and the general environment. And all done with a simple mental exercise that only costs a couple of seconds of focus. Not a bad return on the investment.


Give it a shot. I think you will be pleasantly surprised how easy it is to add to your daily routine