Fundamentals Uber Alles

One of the problems affecting the Tactical Gun community is an obsession with gear as a reaction to failed or poor performance. There is a tendency to focus on a new gun, new ammo, new holster, trigger job, new sights, etc. as the answer rather than more practice or training. There is a similar problem in the Martial Art/Self-defense world where being gear-centric is replaced with technique. The answer to a failure tends towards “give me another technique”. I found myself doing this for the first 20+ years of my martial experience. I remember going to seminars with big name instructors and feeling cheated if I did not walk out of the there with a Yellow Pages sized notebook. Which I would then be unable to even remember 30% of the techniques, let alone being able to pull off any of them against the slightest bit of resistance. So was my solution to train harder and more diligently? Of course not! It was go to another seminar, or buy another book, or watch another video/DVD. More technique!!! To bring this idea back to the shooting world, you see it happen in course AARs where the main point is how many rounds are fired, regardless of the quality of information being passed on.

The problem is that approach (whether technique or gear) does not address the real problem. What does work, in both areas (H2H and shooting), is a studied focus on fundamentals and a commitment to train those fundamentals.

It took me a long time to “see the light”. About twenty years in fact. When I did, and stopped thinking the answer to every failure was more technique, and instead was focus on high percentage responses and work them under realistic conditions and pressures until they are as subconscious as possible, I began to actually succeed on a regular basis. When I was studying an eclectic modern martial art in the mid 80’s through early 90’s, we would work some grappling. However, the instructor actually knew very little about groundwork, and rather than working on good fundamentals, we had “tricks” to beat a grappler. Can’t get out from under a grappler? Bite him! Can’t pass his guard? Leg lock! This approach really hampered my development by years. Instead of using the high percentage moves proven to work, we wasted time taking the easy route that led to failure.

It is one of my current and most irritating pet peeves in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. I see too many newer trainees and lower belts become obsessed with the latest move that is sweeping the competition world. People who cannot even pass the guard of a peer on demand spends all their time working lapel guard or mantis guard or berimbolo attacks. And then when that cool guy attack is stymied (which is inevitable because they have no clue about what is happening), they are stuck because they have nothing else. Contrast that with the higher belt, who has solid fundamentals, honed by years of dedicated practice, and can consistently succeed at moves against his peers, adding the more spectacular or complicated move to his game. He is not nailing the berimbolo because of the inherent awesome-ness of the move, but rather because he is technically proficient and knows how to use it in the right way at the right time. This comes from a solid grounding in the fundamentals, the essentials.

I am telling you that all the fighters who win all the time in competition at higher belts, have rock solid fundamental game, BEFORE they attempt one fancy move. Rafa Mendes can beat lesser fighters playing a pure 1970’s style BJJ game. The only time he pulls out the fancy stuff is if he wants to play, or if the opponent is good enough to stop him and he is forced to expand his attack. But that is a very specific set of circumstances. Ryan Hall, one of the best and most successful of the American sport black belts is well known for his competition style game. A few years ago, he found himself in a street confrontation. What did he do? Did he flop onto his back, go to 50/50 guard, wait there for minutes, and then settle for a sweep (which might be typical of him in a match)? No, he shot in with a double leg takedown, mounted, and controlled the guy. When the guy got froggy and would not stop, Ryan let him turn face down and choked him. All straight out of the Gracie Jiu-jitsu in Action videotape, circa 1989. His base was the same as all good players – the same foundational moves that you learn in the first 6 months.

One of the reasons I pay little attention to the debate between competition oriented BJJ and self-defense oriented BJJ is because it is truly irrelevant. To get good and consistent at using so called “sport” moves, you must have the foundation to launch and apply them. And that foundation is the same regardless of context. All good and legit BJJ schools will teach in general the same essential skill sets, moves, and principles. The contextual application and additions can be layered over that, but the base – the foundation of the house is the same. That is the main reason when someone asks me to help find them a good self-defense focused BJJ school, I just find them the most legitimate and best school available in their area, and then I tell them to train there for 2-3 years, and THEN think about whether it is a sport or street school.

In summary, when in doubt, work harder, longer, and more diligently on the fundamentals. That is the key to success.