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The Holy Grail Of Self-Defense Training

self-defense training

Advanced skills are the basics mastered.”

Self-defense fundamentals allow you to achieve a higher level of proficiency faster, easier, retain it longer and improve it over time. This post explains the concept of “fundmentals first” as an effective approach to self-defense training.

“Success is neither magical nor mysterious. Success is the natural consequence of consistently applying basic fundamentals.” ~ Jim Rohn

There are two basic stages to the ongoing cycle of your self-defense development: the learning stage and the training stage.

Unfortunately, in far too many cases, the latter is not given the emphasis or attention that it deserves.

Self-Defense Lessons From Law Enforcement

For many years, my focus was (and still is) on teaching “High Risk Professionals;” (law enforcement, military, corrections, security etc.) The men and women I teach are hired and relied on to deal with dangerous, adversarial and violent situations.

The majority of students have little to no experience in dealing with violence. Some have previous martial arts or combative experience. Most of them are relative “newbies” to the self-defense game.

The objective is to prepare them, in the shortest time possible, for the stress, chaos and challenges of “the real world.” They are expected and accountable to resort to their training from that point forward.

The “teaching/learning part” is relatively straight-forward. Tremendous advancements have been made in designing legitimate programs that conform to the science of critical incident performance. There are many excellent and dedicated trainers delivering that material.

The real challenge, is encouraging the graduates of those “learning sessions” to continue on their journey AFTER the formal training session had been completed.

To me, it’s that ongoing, post-learning effort that has become the key to long-term proficiency. That is what I refer to as the “Holy Grail” of self-defense training.

Sticking with the police training scenario (its just as true for self-defense), a common problem with moving straight to “technique-based learning” is that it produces much slower and inferior results.

Even if the student can make significant strides during the course of their initial training, the results of that training will be short-lived and somewhat temporary without follow up.

Here is a list of common problems that are encountered with a “technique-oriented” approach to training:

  • the inability utilize the entire body to strike hard
  • inability to transfer the energy generated into the target
  • lack of effective stance, positioning or movement
  • poor sense of distance and balance
  • failing to protect their head with the non-hitting hand
  • the student’s level of conditioning can not be directly influenced during the learning session

These problems can eventually be “fixed,” but it takes time and reduces the level of skill that they could have achieved by the end of formal instruction.

Students “finish” the training with a general sense of how to perform the skills but NOT how to practice and improve them beyond the final day of learning them.

When I incorporated “combative fundamentals” into self-defense and defensive tactics sessions a number of positive things became apparent:

– students learned faster
– students learned better
– students retained the skills longer
– students leave with a sense of how to continue to train and practice

Fundamentals First

By establishing the fundamentals first, transitioning over to the specific tactics and techniques of a particular program is smoother, faster and much more effective.

Regardless of what program I’m delivering: combative fitness, self-defense or defensive tactics, I always include a learning block on fundamentals. This addresses BOTH the learning and training phases of development.

“Everybody has the same basic body and needs, and we have to have the courage to train the fundamentals, the basics, at least 80% of the time. Sure, add some spice in there now and again, but focus on the basics.” ~ Dan John

Fundamentals represent “square one” in any combative program. I define the term fundamentals to mean: the basic principles, rules and laws of improvement that serve as the groundwork of a system.

More specifically, the fundamentals are the essential combative movement patterns that serve as the foundation of your fighting proficiency. In the Toughen Up Training curriculum that includes:

  • four basic strikes: straight punch, hook, uppercut and hammer fist
  • four basic kicks: knee strike, roundhouse, front kick, and back kick
  • stance, position, movement and range

Having taught thousands of people over many years, I believe the best approach is to START with fundamentals first.

Alignment With Principles

In my last post, “Four Must-Know Principles Of Self-Defense,” I explained what I believe to be true about obtaining the long-term benefits of self-defense training.

No sense repeating myself here, but suffice it to say that the proper learning and subsequent practice of combative fundamentals is the ONLY way that I can think of to align yourself to all four of those principles.

Please give that post a read and think about how it applies to what I’m saying here.

Applying Fundamentals First

As I mentioned above, whether I’m teaching combative fitness, self-defense or defensive tactics, I’ve come to a point where I ALWAYS include a session on fundamentals.

“For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.” ~ Aristotle

That quote makes sense in my approach to teaching striking fundamentals. In order to hit focus pads properly you need to know how to hit properly. The fastest and most efficient way to learn how to hit properly is to hit focus pads (WHILE learning the proper mechanics of course)

After learning how to stand and move, the student is coached through the basics of each strike until they can perform all four in a smooth and proficient manner.

That’s the fastest way I’ve come across to teach striking as quickly and efficiently as possible. Using focus pads as  feedback and a learning aid, we develop the striking fundamentals one punch at a time, gradually moving onto combinations and drills.

I consider kicking as a supplement to strikes and move on to kicking techniques once the basics of striking have been established.

If your goal is fitness, you’re good to go. Get yourself a set of focus pads, a heavy bag and you’re ready for business. Just add the combative component to whatever other fitness activities your are doing.

If your goals include self-defense and/or defensive tactics, the groundwork is now established. Transitioning to the situation-specific techniques of whatever program you happen to be learning is an easy one.

Open-handed hits, elbow and forearm strikes, escapes, releases and even head butts will feel smoother, easier and more natural.

Fundamentals Are “Practice-able.”

Let’s face it, unless you’re a reality-based martial artist who goes to regular classes of some kind, most people don’t practice what they learn at a self-defense seminar.

I don’t know many people who practice eye gouges, claws to the throat, or “grip-and-rip” techniques to the groin. As applicable as these techniques may or may not be in an actual self-defense encounter, they’re just not something you’re gonna practice on a regular basis.

The missing piece of the self-defense puzzle for most people is not on how well you learn a technique, but on what you do to maintain and improve those skills AFTER that point.

It’s not enough to “learn” the fundamentals, you must also “practice” them on a regular, ongoing basis. Make it part of your workout. Lift some weights, go for a run and keep those skills alive on a bag, pad or training partner.

You won’t be sorry you did.

You’re Not Done Yet!

Regardless of your level of experience or the particular system or program you subscribe to, I invite you to give some thought to embracing “the underlying basics” of your art.

Isolate them, simplify them and practice them on a regular basis.

Feel free to offer your input, opinions and feedback in the comment section at the end of this post.

Take care, train smart and stay safe.

About Randy LaHaie

I’m the founder of “Protective Strategies,” a training and consulting company providing self-defense and combative fitness solutions to law enforcement, high-risk professionals and private citizens since 1994. I am a retired police officer, court-declared expert in use-of-force and critical incident performance, and a life-long student of self-defense and combative fitness. “My Thing” is to help people incorporate functional and minimalist workout strategies to improve their health, fitness and personal safety.

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  • Randy,

    You are so right!

    Too many self defense systems are too much into “moves” and ignore fundamentals such as a solid defense, footwork, body mechanics, attitude, awareness.

    • I’m glad we’re on the same page Ed. Thanks for your input.

  • Mark Langenbacher

    Thanks for the reminder Randy. I guess I need to get back to hitting the bags.

    • Yup… it’s the simple stuff that makes all the difference Mark… Lift things, hit things, eat good food and pay attetion to what’s happening around you… It doesn’t get much more complicated than that.

  • George

    Hi Randy, I couldn’t agree with you more about this one-stance, position, movement and range they are so often left out during teaching moves or techniques… and are probably the most crucial aspects of self defense.. I also like teaching people hit focus mitts for feed back, but I always prefer to teach form in movement when I am teaching any strike… (not forms or kata) just the body mechanics of a movement before they strike a pad, find out that’s it helpful before someone strikes the pads…. George

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