All Terrain Fighting Methodology

People of course come to train in martial arts for various reasons. For some their main motivation may be to improve their health, or to get into shape, meeting new friends and so on. These are all worthy goals, but at the end of the day one should never lose sight of the fact, that it still remains MARTIAL arts training. As such, while training martial arts can be focused on achieving many different goals simultaneously, one should never lose sight, or be out of touch with the self-preservation aspect of what one trains. Sadly, there are very good examples of how what was once a self-preservation approach, has now become almost exclusively focused on sport: the world of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and more generally grappling is one of these examples.

I have always felt, that at the heart of one’s martial arts training should be the ability to deploy those skills in the ultimate arena of self-preservation.I don’t see much point to be honest in spending time honing martial arts skills, if those very same skills sets wont come to bear in interpersonal violence.This is also central to my philosophy when teaching martial art skills.

I believe that everything I teach on the mat, must have the ability to be converted to the self-preservation arena. The way I teach my combat athletic base (often referred to as the ‘sport base’) always considers it’s application in real world interpersonal violence. This is a crucially important point. On any night if you came to my Academy you would see what on the outside may look like a boxing, kickboxing, MMA or Jiu-Jitsu class. But what you wont see unless you are in my classes, is that everything I am teaching, must have the ability to cross-over to self-preservation if need be.

My 3 Principles of Learning to Fight

I have developed 4 key principles that inform not only the way I teach martial arts skills, but equally how I continue to research and develop my programs. If I am asked to define what it is that I actually offer in the world of martial arts, I would say:

My focus in coaching martial arts, is to ensure that what I teach is an all-terrain combat athletically based self-preservation system.

In the following sections I will break apart the above definition and outline what I actually mean by an All Terrain Combat Athletically Based Self-Preservation System.

1. All Terrain

What value is a ‘self-preservation’ system of unarmed combat if its utility is limited? I have been lucky to test many of the techniques, and concepts of my programs where it matters most, in surviving interpersonal violence. Over the past two decades, I have had the privilege and honor to have taught for example the Crazy Monkey System to special force military operators, law enforcement officers, and close protection teams. Crazy Monkey Defense therefor has been successfully deployed in various environments, from the battlefield, to steaming jungles, to the urban sprawl and city streets. The ability to do so, not only speaks to the functionality of the system to morph and cross-platform to various ecologies, it also defines how it was developed, and continues to be improved upon.

In my experience, complexity kills. In a physical fight, in a life and death encounter, you want what you had previously trained to be recalled easily. In other words, it needs to remain simple, but highly tested. The truth is, your cognitive functions in high stress experiences is easily overloaded, and when it comes to performance fighting skills, you want your body to be in the driving seat. The more complex the system you trained in, the more likely cognitive overload will occur, as you scramble for the best possible solution to the unfolding experience you now find yourself in.

As most military operators will tell you, they survived life and death fire fights, because they trusted their training. 
Empty hand fighting skills are no different to combat shooting skills. Trust will be developed through training those skills in the closest realistic training environments possible, and seeing the success of those actions first hand. This trust is then transferred to the reality of the fight. A moment, where you trust in your training, could mean the difference between life or death. Further, you have to trust that those skills you have been training will show up in multiple environments, not just in the ‘Dojo’. While of course one needs to adapt one’s training approach from one environment to another where possible, at its core, the fight concepts should be easily transferable, regardless of environment.

As such, as I developed my martial arts programs, and continue to do so, it is shaped by the desire to have those skill sets be applicable to the widest range of interpersonal conflict experiences. Having students for example in Crazy Monkey Defense (and my other programs) from so many various professional backgrounds has made this goal even more crucial.

2. Combat Athletic Base

There are key attributes in developing self-preservation skills that I believe can only be developed in  what is often referred to as ‘combat sports’ and by extension through contact sparring.

Attributes such as distancing, timing, keeping calm under attack, and landing techniques against a moving, resisting, uncooperative opponent to name a few — can only be experienced and developed in sparring.  While there is a place for ‘self-preservation scenarios’, this isn’t the place to develop these attributes. Much of the reason for this is that going hard, all out, with anything goes, just isn’t that safe with the current protective gear on the market. But in addition, self-preservation scenarios, are exactly that: scenarios, set up to give a person a frame of reference to explore applying certain skill sets. A scenario is never an actual fight, just like a map isn’t the actual terrain. Sparring, like it or not, is the closest a person can come to, and consistently repeat over and over, against another opponent who fights back. In other words, it is one of the most repeatable ways to access the terrain of the fight game.

Now of course, when I say sparring, I do mean within the parameters of safety for both parties concerned. I am not of course going to kick my partner between the legs (Although we may simulate doing so in a scenario drill). But here is the thing, if you can land that front kick to his leg, or the round kick to his thigh in sparring when his moving, trying to counter, or fight back — placing it when you need it in a street environment to someone’s groin isn’t going to be that difficult. As noted above, done with respect, with safety, sparring is repeatable. You can spar every day if approached properly (If you want to read more about my pedagogical approach to martial arts, go here).

Each time you spar, you are honing those key attributes I mentioned earlier, each of which is going to be required when you actually have to defend yourself for real out on the street. Do enough sparring, and you are able to develop those attributes, like timing, distancing, speed, power, and so forth, to a very high level. These attributes become ingrained, second nature, and easily brought forward when needed by your body’s natural intelligence and in doing so freeing up your cognitive stream for other matters, such as inner game management.

3. Self-Preservation

I prefer the term ‘self-preservation’ rather than ‘self-defense’. I see the idea of ‘self-defense’ as something you do to keep yourself safe the moment it happens to you — whilst ‘self-preservation’ is an concept you live by. Self-defense in other words, at least to me, is reactionary, while self-preservation is preemptive.

Here’s an example: Imagine for a moment you are walking to your motor vehicle late at night. For some odd reason, you parked on a dimly lit street corner, in a not so safe part of the city. As you are walking to your car you are distracted by answering messages on your mobile phone. Blissfully unaware of your surroundings, as you get to your car and begin to open the door you are held up at gun point. In that moment, you are in a ‘self-defense’ situation.

Conversely: if we play out that whole scenario again, but this time, knowing that you parked in an unsavory part of the city, you decide to pack your phone away before walking to your motor vehicle, fully aware of your surroundings. Now, because you are so much more aware, you see a couple of guys lurking around on the street corner, and you stop, noticing them from a distance. Because you are aware, your spidey sense, the alarm bells in your body go off telling you something isn’t right with this picture. Something looks out of place, and you know it.The guys on the street corner, realizing that you are aware, decide to turn around, and walk down the opposing street in hopes of finding an easier mark. That’s self-preservation!

In other words, self-preservation should be part of every aspect of your life. Now, I don’t mean in some kind of paranoid reality based self-defense ‘there is an attacker on every corner’ kind of way. Rather it’s about knowing when to be switched on, aware, awake and preemptive. For example, if I am going to a part of the world I am unfamiliar with (which is often), I then want to have some idea on what the crime trends are in that part of the world, and what to watch out for.

Sadly, I knew someone who didn’t do this, and paid the ultimate price. A good friend of mine who was a reporter was killed right outside a hotel in a North African country because she failed to wear her bullet proof vest that day. Now, had she known before hand, that they were frequently targeting journalists, and assassination attempts were common, she wouldn’t have stood outside in the open foyer of the hotel the way she did that day.

As such, preserving the self, is putting a self-preservation mindset to work, even  before we have to worry about defending the self. But, if we find ourselves in a situation, where we have no choice but to go hands on with a human threat, what is going to aid us in getting through that experience is going to be the time we spent on the mat developing our combat athletic base (and of course how it was taught to us, more about that here). The truth is, what saved me working as a doorman outside some of Johannesburg’s roughest nightclubs for several years was my combat athletic training such as boxing, not some self-defense technique sequence I was taught in some self defense class.