One of the major factors that distinguish “realistic” fighting systems from more traditional styles, is in the close simulation of a “live” combat situation when practicing. The use of unpredictable, resisting opponents has elevated the intensity and realism of the newer “street-effective” systems to where much greater proficiency is now possible. Programs like RMCAT, FAST DEFENSE, etc. have risen the bar even further by producing and defining the “adrenal-stress” scenario, which incorporates more essential elements of a real confrontation, thereby closely replicating the situations under which real combat takes place.
That said, there are severe limitations to the structure of most drills, which virtually destroy the learning process after only a few repetitions. To better understand the reasons that drills “stagnate” so quickly, we must look to the now-famous work of Colonel J. Boyd. Boyd created the concept of the OODA cycle, which governs the response of an organism to a given stimulus. OODA is an acronym, which stands for OBSERVATION, ORIENTATION, DECISION, and ACTION. These four terms represent the stages through which the brain passes when evaluating a new “event” in an organism’s environment. I will paraphrase the definitions and descriptions of each stage, so that we may more fully understand how each step is connected to the process of self-defense:
O – OBSERVATION: This first stage is where the individual first perceives an event or stimulus occurring. The stimulus can be visual, auditory, etc., comprised of one or more of the five senses. I believe the stimulus may also be “contrived” or imagined, which triggers the same processes. An example of an imaginary stimulus is the “visualized” drill, where you create a situation in your mind, and imagine how you would deal with it. Nevertheless, the presentation of a stimulus elicits the response of activating the OODA cycle.
O – ORIENTATION: The second stage is where the individual focuses on the new stimulus and evaluates its impact or importance to him/her. Is that squeak I heard just a rusty gate swinging in the breeze, or is it the footstep of a potential attacker? DOES WHAT I HAVE OBSERVED AFFECT and/or INVOLVE ME?
D – DECISION: The third stage of the process is the one which takes the longest time. This is the time when you decide what “action/no action” you will take (to deal with the stimulus you have observed and oriented on). Depending on the simplicity/complexity of your training, how much training you have had, and the complexity of the stimulus/situation, this step can be “paralyzingly” long or sweet and simple. For self-defense applications, “Hicks’ Law” states that merely adding a second response to a stimulus increases one’s reaction time by 58%! For complex martial arts styles, with hundreds of techniques, you can imagine the “overload” which can occur in the processing of this information!
A – ACTION: This final stage is where you implement the decision you have just reached. You may have decided that no action was necessary, or that you must dive through the nearest window to safety. Whatever your decision, this is when you complete the process.
One of the problems associated with traversing the OODA cycle is that real-life events sometimes “interrupt” the process, sending you back to the beginning before you complete one entire cycle. This happens because the environment may change suddenly. For instance, if you planned to shoot at the attacker when he comes around the corner, your processing could be foiled if he goes around the other way. Or when you notice one attacker, and begin to decide on a course of action, and suddenly a second attacker appears. Back to square one.
More closely related to combative training is the phenomenon of how the OODA cycle is “short-cutted” in the use of most drills. When a student performs a chosen drill, the first performance is the one where almost all pertinent OODA “learning” takes place. Once the nature of the stimulus (attacker) is known, both the observation and orientation portions of the OODA cycle are already known. Because of the techniques being practiced, the DECISIONS are also already made. Therefore, only the perfection /practice of the ACTION response are involved in sequential repetitions of the drill.
In other words, the student knows what is happening, knows the event involves him, knows the nature of the upcoming fight, and only has to improve his means of “playing the game” to “win” the drill/fight. This same phenomenon occurs when playing video games, where once the upcoming challenge is more clearly identified, repetitive attempts and increased anticipation of a known “event” improves your performance.
The inherent limitations of this situation should be increasingly obvious. Realistic self-defense situations require that the student must utilize the entire OODA cycle to improve their real-world performance, since none of the scripted, repetitive challenges exist. Therefore, the method(s) by which drills are utilized in training must evolve to provide the opportunity to continue to STRESS THE ORGANISM. I emphasize this point since basic biological theory points out that stress causes adaptation. Adaptation in defense applications means more versatility in dealing with fresh stimuli (threats/challenges), and reduced processing time. Merely repeating rehearsed drills CANNOT provide the proper stress to the system, and does not develop the ability to run through the OODA cycle more efficiently!
First, the main problem with designing realistic drills for Self-Defense (SD) is the very nature of the environment in which the drills are carried out. When students enter the training area, they know that they are there to practice SD techniques. They are focused on these techniques, and therefore have more concentration on THIS portion of their total existence than they would when going about their everyday routine. There is also the fact that they know the “rules” of the practice sessions: what techniques to use, what NOT to use, the range of the encounters, the type of attack they’ll be defending, the fact that the attacker is NOT really trying to kill them, and that there will be no consequences for a poor performance. Tony Blauer calls this situation “implied consent.” The comfort zone established by all these unspoken rules diminishes the value of typical SD drills, and we haven’t even started the practice session yet!
A major goal of a good SD drill is to create the same feeling of surprise and “startle” when an attack is launched. This is not easy, since a typical set-up has the students watching each other undergo the drills, and their “planning” commences as soon as they see the first participant perform the drill. Since a spontaneous, adrenalized state is the goal, adjustments to the environment, adjustments to the “rules,” and adjustments to the psychological/emotional state of the participants must be made to minimize the “preparation” of the students.
The most critical part of any confrontation is the Interval between threat recognition and effective retaliation. This concept is also rarely trained effectively, since the “threat” is often announced prior to beginning the drill! If you know that the attacker will have a knife, and that you must use one of the disarms you have been practicing, it is clear that most of the work (OODA) has already been done before anything commences. Therefore, to train the entire “chain of events,” one must allow the inclusion of the above-mentioned adjustments in their training.
The single most powerful reason that drills continue to be run in an outmoded fashion is that nobody likes to be stressed strongly, and that the ensuing performance in OODA drills is unsettlingly “less-perfect” than more traditionally structured drills. Since there is no opportunity to repeat the exact same fight, you don’t get the comfort of improving your “score” on that drill. Yet, the overall adaptation which occurs by continual stress and uncertainty is greater than that provided by incremental improvement in a prescribed combination of strikes, in a single situation.
How do we go about altering our drills to help achieve this “randomness?” What factors contribute to adjusting the setting of a drill, and thereby enhancing the “liveness?”
1. Adjustments to the environment include, but are not limited to: lighting, noise level, presence of objects to stumble over (or use as improvised weapons), space allotted for the drill, and (in advanced situations) the presence of friendly/unfriendly bystanders. You may also place the student in a specialized environment: car seat, bed, chair, etc. Combinations of the above factors can also be employed to increase the possibilities. These manipulations are the simplest level of alteration, which can be used. They represent a good starting point for those programs, which are just beginning to employ OODA work.
2. Adjustments to the “rules” revolve around allowing the conflict to be carried out in multiple ranges (different for each participant), allowing the bad guy to continue fighting (rather than posing with the first blow) allowing the bad guy to ignore blows he feels are ineffective, allowing the bad guy to ignore “all blows” for a period of time (simulates drugged attacker and also provides “overkill” mentality for student) and “not divulging” any important details about the nature of the drill to the student before their turn. The natural extension of the last statement is to “isolate” the students and cause each one to participate in the drill without observing the performance of the preceding students.
3. Adjustments to the psychological/emotional elements of the drill fall into a few main categories (my definitions):
Examples include having the student stand with their back to the (aggressor) with their eyes closed. For added effect, hum a song [to themselves] to remove audible input. (having to concentrate on making the notes of the song while they are so desperately trying to gather information/feedback about the environment is extremely unsettling). Line up all the potential attack “victims” at once (eyes closed) so nobody knows who’s “going to get it”= another level of apprehension. The “isolation” of students waiting their turn in a drill is also an incredible way to increase apprehension. The implementation of these concepts is limited only by the creativity of the instructor team, and these examples are only a couple of the methods used at RBFC.
B. Distraction of the Conscious Mind
In this realm, we attempt to remove the students’ primary concentration from the upcoming drill/confrontation and force them to perform cognitive tasks, which will occupy their consciousness. This simulates preoccupation with everyday living and responsibilities, etc. It may be a physical task such as stacking items or placing numbered items in order. It may be verbal, where we require them to actively participate in a conversation. In the physical realm, giving them complex callisthenic/balance problems achieves a similar effect. In general, being attacked while actively performing a non-fighting task more closely simulates the experience of a real confrontation, where the student is required to suddenly shift gears (OODA cycle!) and initiate action.
C. Societal/Conduct Breaches
This includes outright profanity and screaming, or any other disturbing verbal/visual interaction (especially effective if chosen to “push buttons” of a particular student) wither before or during the attack. In my pressure cooker drill, the bad guy may also use all verbal/emotional means of assault and then merely disengage the confrontation (sound like real life?)
A cruder but still effective means of inducing panic into the situation is to have the attacker use much more force and aggressiveness than typical. This often surprises even the most hard-core trainees, as long as it’s unexpected. However just like the “swallow the gasoline and lighted match trick,” this usually only works once! Of course, all training exercises must be conducted with the safety of the student in mind!
To accurately choose the proper level of stress for a student, we conduct what I term a “profiling” of that individual. This places the student on a scale for passiveness/aggressiveness, physicality/frailty. With this guideline in place, more appropriate training environments can be employed.
To complete the discussion, I’ll present a complete drill. This example is based on the “distraction of the conscious mind” model using the verbal approach with some apprehension/anticipation thrown in for good measure, and can be adapted for use by many types of training situations:
The bad guy, wearing protective gear waits silently “off-stage” for the signal to attack the student in any way he sees fit. The student stands facing the instructor who is in charge of the drill. The student is brought into the training setting without knowing anything about what is going on, and is led in with their eyes closed. The eyes remain closed until the onset of the fight.
The instructor engages the student with conversational and questions, which require well-thought out, e.g., how may houses have you lived in during your lifetime? Where is the jack located in your car to change a flat tire? Do you have any living great aunts or uncles? How do you bake a chocolate cake? What is the sum total of 36 + 29? (questions are tailored specifically for the individual)
At a pre-arranged [or random] moment during the questioning, the bad guy attacks the student without warning! We get some incredible startle responses from this drill, and the effectiveness is confirmed when the student reports that they do not remember what they did to fight their way out!
CAUTION: When using “unscripted” attack scenarios, ensure that adequate protective measures are used to protect both participants. The random and wild nature of the resulting fights must be anticipated and thus adequate safety precautions MUST be used. Note that the process of gaining proficiency through these specialized drills is a “filtration” of unnecessary input, which clouds the rapid decision-making process. This is not unlike the emergency room nurse, who on the first day of the job has a massive trauma victim come into her care. This experience is filled with an adrenalized “frenzy” of confusion. Yet, by the time a few months has passed, the same experience now has her using the positive effects of the adrenaline to enhance her efficiency, and she has pared away the confusing/paralyzing aspects of the situation. Efficiency in OODA processes is a universal concept, and applying the fundamentals of this science to SD drills provides rewarding advancement.
About the author
Lee Aldridge is the Head Instructor and Owner of Reality Based Fighting Concepts (RBFC) in Albuquerque, NM. His program specializes in preparing clients for real-world confrontation, with an emphasis on tailoring the curriculum toward the needs of the specific client(s). Lee has been involved in the martial arts for over 36 years, and has incorporated principles from many styles, etc. into the curriculum offered in the RBFC courses. By combining modern adult learning theory, human performance enhancement data, fear management techniques, and creatively structured drills, the RBFC program offers a unique method to achieve good proficiency in self-defense more efficiently than through traditional methodology. Lee is one of a very few private individuals in the world who is authorized to employ the Bulletman Suit in his training programs.