But Is It Real?

· 833 words · about 4 minutes

There is a nice clip up from Kali Instructor Doug Marcaida on the question of realism in training. You can see it at YouTube.

It prompted a discussion on one of the FB groups and, of course, it is a regular topic in the martial arts wolrd - particularly on the Internet. For the sake of this blog I'm going to ignore the keyboard warrior / troll types (who are invariably talkers rather than do-ers) and focus on some of the important issues raised.

My opinion is that training is never "real", as if it is real it is not training. You can do certain things to simulate aspects of reality. You can do certain things to develop attributes and skills. But neither is real, they will always lack certain qualities that are present in a real situation.

Another problem can be what "real" means to different people. For example I've been told that "knife attacks are always like this" when all the knife situations I've been involved in were quite different. I often find that people are informed on what is "real" by movies, TV or martial art clips, where tension and drama sells. I've been in situations where people are theorising about combat in the presence of men who have lived through it - and who's opinions are passed over in favour of the theoriser's particular world-view. Nothing replaces "real" experience and you soon realise there are very few absolutes.

So the first barrier to "real" training is understanding what "real" is. If we lack personal experience we can talk to those with experience. We can watch CCTV clips or similar footage of real events. When doing so look at physical indicators from attackers, look at how people respond, look for any patterns of behaviour. We have to remember things happen in different ways in different places, according to local cultural / social factors for example. Even then, a domestic assault on a partner may be different in "set-up" to a robbery with violence.

The second barrier is the balance between safety and realism I mentioned an incident in class recently where I saw with an experienced guy holding back against a young grappler who was determined to "win". The young guy was "dead without knowing it" but he won! We can try different things - protective gear, varying levels of contact, working at different speeds. But the fact remains unless you have a high level of skill and/or luck you may need to hurt someone in order to stop them. An event a while back (attempted knife robbery on one of our guys) resulted in a hospital trip with a damaged knee to the attacker. Interestingly enough, at no time in training had that student injured a partner (good control, even under pressure training), yet he was able to function as required when he needed to.

Upshot is there needs to be some acknowledgement of a good strike in training. With locks / chokes it is easier - you should be able to feel when it is on! But there also has to be balance - depending on the aims of the drill of course, we don't drop at a touch or tap out as soon as someone grabs an arm.

Some people look for a "realistic" manifestation of skill development, but without some pain / damage / fear indicator everything falls short of being realistic. You can work with an airsoft for pistol training... but nothing replaces fear of the bullet.

What are some ways around this? We can learn to work with structure, we can learn to control a person. We can learn ways of hitting that remove or discourage aggression...that take the attacker's mind off of you. These are all good skills to develop alongside the "destructive" ones.

Ultimately though, if you want your training to be "real" I suggest you work on a behavioural level. Rather than learning some techniques, or even working on the principles behind the techniques, you train in such a way to make your work something you are rather than something you do. Under any kind of stress, your breathing works as it needs to - rather than you going into a breathing pattern. Your body responds to hostile contact as it would a hot object. No thought required. No plan or technique, just appropriate action. Freedom of thought and freedom of movement go hand in hand. Not clouded by assumptions, fear or agression, just doing what needs to be done. Training in this (Systema) way develops faith in the body, leaving your mind free for other things. Not blind faith, but faith developed over a wide and deep range of training which challenges us on all levels.

It's difficult to overstate the benefits this has on our overall life. Whether applied tactically, combatively, sporting, or just everyday living, your training becomes reality and reality becomes your training. The world is your gym. No constructs, no wishful thinking, no fooling ourselves, but a powerful way of dealing with life as it unfolds before us.

We will be covering some of the issues raised here in a combatives setting on our forthcoming workshop -
see all the details here