1. Train against attacks to the head
The head is an obvious target. Not only can we be knocked unconscious through strikes to the head, our ability to hear, see, shout and even our balance can be damaged. We do have natural reflexes to protect the head which will be activated should our eyes receive a stimulus once it is too late to access and execute a trained protective action, but these reflexes are not always effective. The best way to become skilled at protecting the head is to have to defend against attacks to that target on a regular basis. It does not matter whether those attacks are intended to make contact or not, all that is required is the incentive to continuously protect our head from impact and to learn carry the arms in such a way that we can do so speedily with ease.
2. Train against HAOV
Pushes, shoves, grabs, wild haymakers, head butts, headlocks, shoulder barges, tackles, clinches, stomps… the use of habitual acts of violence in training can be controversial. From a self defence perspective they are essential training tools, for in a violent situation you are far more likely to be attacked using haov than any more precise form of attack, even if your attacker is themselves a skilled martial artist. The downside of training against haov is that it means that a proportion of the training time is spent delivering a skillset in which you do not want or need to become proficient at employing. How much time you spend on training against haov should be weighted according to your primary skill development aims.
3. Train at Close range
By close range I’m referring to tactile contact and working at a distance where you are generally within at most ¾ of the arm reach of your training partner. Most violent confrontations quickly close to this distance no matter how skilled a ‘long distance’ fighter one participant may be, and this infighting range is one at which it is important to be comfortable.
4. Make Contact (actually hit people and pads)
Contact in training is tremendously important. I’ve written about it here and here. Both types of contact are important. Experiencing contact in training so that real shoves or knocks don’t faze you or affect your will to continue is invaluable, and it doesn’t have to be knockdown or dangerous/damaging to do so under the supervision of a good teacher.
5. Use verbal abuse and distraction
Verbal abuse, whether by one person or a group, can freeze a person unused to personally experiencing it more effectively than the shock of contact. Exposure to bad language at a distance, or on the screen is not the same. There is a big difference between facing a silent focused training partner, enduring the kiai of a confident partner, and having one or more people swearing and shouting directly in your face.
6. Train against multiple opponents
Dealing with multiple opponents isn’t easy and it isn’t pretty. There are lots of different ways that this can be done: some that genuinely put the trainee under gradually increasing pressure, others that are frankly ridiculous either because they are always so intense that they offer no chance for progression or learning outcomes, or because they are so spaced apart that there is no added pressure or learning gained. There’s no guarantee that training against multiple opponents is going to enable you to fight more than one person (and you should try to avoid even fighting just one person), but this form of training will make you aware of the difficulty, give you indications as to things that definitely don’t work, and possibly provide a more appropriate focus for your one on one strategies.
I haven’t picked these six training paradigms at random. From the experience of observing many trained and untrained people from a range of backgrounds in hundreds of simulated aggressive and violent confrontations, these are the six factors that determine how easily a person is able to access their combative skill set. The more of these a person deals with in regular training the easier it will be to access their skill set, the fewer of these they work regularly or have experienced the harder it will be to access that skill set. This model helps explain why personality, upbringing, martial arts styles and training regimes all have an effect on how successfully people can physically defend themselves.
Not everyone is able to meet all six of these criteria in their regular training, but that doesn’t matter. I have seen people who meet only three criteria in their martial arts class (attacks to the head, contact and close range) do exceptionally well because in their work as LEO (Law Enforcement Officers) they have encountered verbal abuse, haov, and dealing with multiple opponents. The more you meet the easier it will be. If you identify a gap in your class, and if you are not in a position to fill it (or your instructor doesn’t want to) then it is usually easy to gain experience and have fun by cross training at a seminar, or inviting an instructor to teach at your club or workplace.
Have fun and train safely!