07 February 2009

11 Key Differences Between Training and the Real Thing

Image by cfoto

I'm sure most (if not all), readers of Low Tech Combat train with a view to being able to apply what they practise in training, in real life. That is the ultimate goal. We train using only the most effective systems and strategies we know of so that if one day we get into a physical encounter and cannot avoid or evade it, we can use these skills under stress to stop the threat.

We all know that the training environment is quite different to the environment we will likely find ourselves in if we ever have to use these skills for real. Our busy lifestyle these days often means that only little thought is given to these differences. We know we must take responsibility to protect ourselves so we go to work, go to the gym, dojo or dojang or whatever to train, go home, sleep and repeat.

What I wanted to do is put together a list of the 11 Key Differences Between Training and the Real Thing. These highlight some of the differences we often have very little time to consider. It is these differences that may contribute to surprise (which is bad), and a below normal level of performance in the heat of the moment.

11 Key Differences Between Training and the Real Thing
  1. Consequences. In the gym training, no matter how hard we think we are going, in the back of our minds we know that we are training with another person who is there to learn. They are not going to stomp our heads or launch a full power soccer kick at our faces. There is also an instructor who controls the action and is there to step in immediately if ever things get out of hand.

    On the street however, tapping out won't mean the attack will stop. There is no referee to save you and grant the attacker a TKO victory. Falling to the ground won't mean the fight is over. There are very serious consequences in the Real Thing.

  2. Space. Often, Low Tech Combat on the street is at very close range where each combatant has a hold of the other with at least one hand. There is no space to manoeuvre and get into your comfortable distance.

    If your preferred range is long range where you like to pick apart your opponent from a distance, this is likely to cause you some serious issues. In the Real Thing, space is quite often a luxury that is rarely granted.

  3. Time. In training, many people enjoy sparring and wrestling (myself included), but one aspect that is quite different in the Real Thing is that there will be little or no time to 'feel out' your opponent. There is no time for warming up first. There is no time for getting mentally prepared prior to the encounter. Attacks can flair up very quickly, often at times when you do not want them to. Real Low Tech Combat is fast.

  4. Jabs. Many people habitually use jabs when training. Jabs can be a great tool for assessing range, feeling out your opponent, setting up other more powerful attacks or even attempting to knock your opponent out in the Combat Sports. In the Real Thing, numerous other factors such as Space and Time will not allow for jabs to be used. The Real Thing is very different to many training sessions. Using your Jab as a basis for other tools is not going to work.

  5. Preparedness. When you go to your class for training, you know what you are in for. You expect all that comes with training. You are mentally prepared. You likely go over moves and ideas in your head on the way to class. In the Real Thing we don't have that luxury. Things often escalate quickly and at times when you least expect them. Even if you had good awareness and detected the situation early on as it developed, there is still a very compressed period of time, little of which can be used getting prepared.

    Preparedness is a sliding scale where the better your awareness and the least your are caught by surprise, the more prepared you can be. However it is still nothing like the levels of preparedness achieved when knowingly driving to class in the evening for a training session.

  6. Protective Gear. During hard sparring and wrestling sessions it is common to wear a mouth guard and maybe a cup and some gloves or more, depending on the specifics of each session. That is simply the nature of training in a combat based activity.

    In the Real Thing, these items will not be available. At the time, this may or may not mentally affect you. However, it is important to consider this difference when training. Protective gear can promote some unrealistic training habits. Head gear can often promote wearing a hit on the way in for the kill without seriously considering if that tactic would be successful without the protective equipment.

    The use of gloves can promote instinctively punching in the Real Thing which has the risk of causing serious injury to the hand. I have previously written about punching on the street or not.

  7. The Ground. The surface you train on is likely to be very different to the surface you will be on in the Real Thing. It will likely be concrete, tarmac, tiles or some other hard unforgiving surface.

    On top of this there is likely going to be angles such as gutters and steps. It may also be uneven and have numerous trip hazards. These differences are an important consideration to take into account of when you look at how your training and the techniques you use can be hindered or even become dangerous to you in the Real Thing.

  8. Kicks Above The Thigh. There are numerous factors that make it impractical to kick anywhere above the thigh. Many people are unable or uncomfortable to kick above thigh height without first warming up and stretching. Adrenalin may or may not assist in this matter.

    On top of that, you may find yourself in shoes that don't grip very well. The surface may be very slippery under foot. Sure it might be ok to walk on but to pivot on and land a kick above thigh height it may readily slide out from under you. To kick above thigh height you will need to be in pants that have the appropriate flex or cut to enable the leg to go through the kicking range of movement. When other previously mentioned factors are considered such as Space, Preparedness and Time, it may be difficult to do any kick at all.

  9. Unknown Persons. This one is pretty obvious. You never know who is around or what their motivations are. If you get into a scrap with one person, he may have friends nearby who will happily join in at any time. We have seen previously that you are more likely to face three or more attackers than just two attackers.

    At class, even if you train for multiple attackers, you know who everyone is and what their likely behaviour will be. This also ties in with Consequences as mentioned earlier. Training in multiple attackers in class has nowhere near the consequences of facing multiple attackers in the Real Thing.

  10. The Environment. Training at class is a very learning oriented environment, or it should be... It will also be safe from hazards such as sharp edges and will have a smooth surface. Everyone is there to learn. Everyone knows each other.

    The environment where the Real Thing may occur is very different. For one, it will likely be outside. It could be on the street and/or in front of a crowd of thousands. If someone is uncomfortable doing some nice and safe public speaking, that is also likely to affect them if they are forced to defend themselves in front of a crowd. Everyone will be looking at them.

    There will likely be numerous objects lying around which could be picked up and used as a weapon by either side or all. This will change everything. The point is, the training environment is very different than the the environment where the Real Thing takes place.

  11. Tunnel Vision. The are many effects on the body caused by the stress of combat. Tunnel Vision is arguably the most limiting. It generally happens in conjunction with slow motion time. Tunnel Vision only happens under immense stress. Many people have experienced it to some degree at some stage in their lives. It is there to benefit us and help us focus only on the threat we face and cut out all irrelevant information at that time of danger.

    The problem lies when we face more than just one threat. When experiencing Tunnel Vision, naturally we lock onto the threat. We do not look away at all. We are focused 100% on the threat we are facing. The problem with this survival mechanism is apparent when we throw in a second, third or fourth attacker into the equation. It is very easy for them to come at us from the side or rear as we will not detect it as we are 100% focusing on the one threat to our front. Rarely will training get us to experience tunnel vision and the problems this can cause.

    Briefly, the best way to break this tunnel vision is through training. Every time you face an attacker in scenarios or multiple attacker training, ALWAYS continue to look left, right and behind you at all times. Maintain 360 degree awareness. In this way, hopefully when you experience tunnel vision when facing a threat, it will be a habit to look around and behind you for others.
So there we have it. 11 Key Differences Between Training and the Real Thing. Hopefully this post has provided some food for thought in this matter and will make you in some way, better prepared for the Real Thing.

This list is not exhaustive. There are many other factors that are quite different between our training and the Real Thing. Any suggestions?

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  1. Some of the surprises I've found in real fights were beer on concrete and flip-flops did not mix. In that fight I landed on my butt (slipped on the beer) after the first kick and then got up and used hands the rest of the fight.

    I discovered that you fight the way you train. I did lots of point fighting and in some fights I would hit the guy with a back knuckle and then have to do it again (after realizing what the heck I was doing).

    I had tunnel vision when I drank too many beers and found I could not do any spinning moves (not that this was a good idea anyway but as I said, you fight the way you train.

    Great point about unknown persons... in the bar when I was a bouncer - it was the guy you did not know about that was the danger.

    I've always said that you would get into a fight when you were too sick, tired, drunk, injured or such so your training had better get you through...

    As far as consequences - I used to have to fight in the pre-cell phone camera era... I would really be worried about one-sided pictures in today’s mindset. One cannot simply disappear to avoid questions and a he said/he said situation. Now everyone has a camera and might actually accuse you as being the aggressor just because you won the fight.

    Excellent points in this post.

  2. John, you have highlighted just a couple other examples of how our training and the environment we train in is quite different to the Real Thing.

    I think we can go a large way to rectifying this gap by simply acknowledging it and taking a few moments every now and then to consider these differences and how they may affect us in the event of ending up in a physical encounter.

    Understanding, accepting and considering the various differences between our training and the real thing is key.

  3. I really enjoyed this post that I believe it's great: you centred a number of very true and interesting concepts there.

    In my experience I can see that generally the other guy will possible have feelings similar to yours, unless he is a very seasoned street fighter.

  4. A huge difference, and one that screws up more martial artists than any other I know, is judgment. See, in class you don't usually need to exercise judgment - you don't have to decide if you have the legal ability to throw down, decide when and really have to figure out if the situation is no longer salvageable with words and only violence will resolve things. In class you get ready to spar and the teacher gives the word and it's on.

    In the street you have to Observe what's happening, Orient to the threat, Decide what to do and then Act (OODA loop). Rarely does most civilian training introduce and train this process, which leaves the mental wheels turning like a hamster wheel under critical incident stress - spinning for all they're worth but not really going anywhere.

  5. Massimo Gaetani: You mention a good point here. Often the guy you are facing will be hyper excited as the situation unfolds.He is also likely to experience some effects such as tunnel vision.

    Of course, the effects of real combat can make him more resistant to our attacks. The benefit? YOU will likely be more resistant to attacks as well.

    Im glad you brought it up. The other guy will likely be feeling similar things to you. Not always, but likely. And maybe not the same things. Different people feel different effects.

    Anonymous: Judgement. Very true. In the real thing, we need to make decisions and judgements that many people never have to make in training.

    And im glad to see and know of at least SOME schools and courses that put people through a similar type of process as to what is forced onto us in the real thing. Hopefully this type of training will become more and more popular.

    The OODA loop. A bit old now but still very relevant. For those interested a quick google will tell more.

    I think training for the real thing is becoming slowly more and more popular over time. In a way I think it is a form of evolution. However, I dont think that hard core scenarios and very stressful training should be done every day.

    We can all do our normal day to day training. But I think it is good to be able to do special training sessions that aim to simulate the real thing maybe once a week if possible. That would be great. If not, this is an area I think RBSD type courses can really be of benefit to people.

    It is that reminder and reiteration and refocus onto the real thing that is the real benefit of RBSD type courses. The good ones at least. It behaves like a quick check.

    It is a way to make sure we are walking along the correct path and what we are spending our time on is working under pressure with realistic attacks and scenarios.

  6. The biggest thing you left out was: Rules

    In training, there are lots. In real life there are none.

    One should research what is illegal in MMA, and realize these things will be used in RL.

    Eye gouges, small joint manipulation, biting, and the obvious groin shots are all likely in a street fight.

    Ever note how quickly MMA guys stop in their tracks with an inadvertent eye poke? Just imagine someone actually trying hard to dig their thumb into your socket.

  7. I like your numbering to eleven. Ten is cliche. Ten fingers. Worldwide mathematics based on ten. I would sum it up with one, "Preparedness."

  8. Hi Adam. You've compiled a great list! For me, I believe that in the real thing, there is a tendency to make it a physical encounter because of our training. The option of "running away" or "avoid" a physical encounter is normally not trained during training. I believe this can come under the OODA thing above under D, but with a twist - Decide what NOT to do.

  9. These things like tunnel vision or Adrenal dump are cause by the"low road" of perception stimulating the amygdala. How can you retrain the reaction of the Limbic system?

  10. Interesting comments by all!

    Anon, you can not retrain a reaction. The best way to limit the effects of things such as tunnel vision and slow motion time etc is to train using alive and realistic drills, at a slow then medium speed and then gradually quicker with more and more intensity being introduced as previous drills are perfumed adequately. This way, training slowly inoculates the trainee against triggers and stressors. The effects will still be there, but they will less severe which will enable the trainee to think and not purely react.

  11. Hmmm, whilst i agree 100% with the headline of this post and many, many more differences between training and reality, i can not tolerate blatent lies and false examples... these comments from those who want to play at self defence are very easy to spot and should be told that posting such weak and unrealistic responses on these or any other blog/forum does nothing to help to spread the word on what is needed before the general puplic accept the reality of what is required to succeed not only a physical assult but also vast amount of training required to achieve that objective?

    Dont get me wrong adam because i do not know your background or you in person, however anyone with even a slight degree of real world experience would spot that Mr Zimmer is nothing but a fool who most likely trolls the internet posting unrealistic comments in order to fullfil his ego that although he has no real world experience he can at least be a coverted internet warrior.... This Blog and many more like it try to express the need for real world training and the current state society is in, but i find it totally inappropiate that these kind of posters are not informed that making up stories and using examples that supposedly match the headlines exactly ( yet in the real world vey few people would be able to explain in such great ... although comical manner) do nothing to get the word across to real people who are looking for real advice and guidance? because you acknowledged his post in a positive manner, not only as it raised doubts about your experience and understanding of conflict but it as also made me think twice about seeking out this blog again? i understand that as a blogger you want traffic and comments to boost your sites credentials, however it's things like this that will make the serious practicioners question your advice as it seems that you will be prepared to sell out in order to keep visitors coming? is this what blogs are all about? nothing more than an online mcdojo.

    1. It's about freedom of speech. The best way the Internet works is if people discuss and debate ideas rather than attack a person personally.

      What are the actual issues with some of the comments? Feel free to discuss these and offer your opinions and maybe leave name calling out of it?


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