Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Principle Based Training Article

Here's an article I wrote for Karate Forums a couple of years ago.  It's largely based on my time involved in Bujin and is written from the perspective of applying principle based training to any art.  I've had luck applying it to defensive tactics for law enforcement as well as a teaching/ training model.

Any discussions/ thoughts welcome:

So what exactly is principle based training when it applies to the martial arts? 

The principles for your art are the core beliefs and responses that you will use to deal with conflict.  They are the framework around which all of your reactions are founded.  I believe that they are present within any systemized fighting art even if it isn’t taught that way.

I talk a lot about it here so I though that I would expound just a little bit about it as well as explain how it can be used by martial artist out of any style to make their approach to conflict more fluid .  I happen to come out of system that was built fundamentally around principle based training; however, anyone can apply this training methodology to what they are doing and, hopefully, increase their chances of surviving a fight.

Simply put, teaching fighting through principle is dealing with the larger picture of conflict rather than merely considering technique.  Practicing technique is good, repetition is the key to being good at a physical skill of any kind.  The problem comes when one trains in the fashion of meeting x attack with y defense.  This continued practice trains the body to respond in only one fashion to a premeditated attack with no variability.  Suddenly, when faced with true combat where things do not progress as anticipated, your reaction time becomes compromised due to an inability to cope with variables that did not exist in training. 

In reality, an attack may be thrown that was not accounted for during training, leaving the defender with no practiced options that he is effective with.  Even less dramatic, perhaps an attack that one has practiced against is thrown, but it is at a slightly odd angle, thus rendering a memorized tactic less effective, or not effective at all.

Conversely, a principle based training platform allows for more efficient responses by the student.  In this methodology, the student becomes concerned with meeting larger strategic objectives rather than applying specific techniques to a situation.  He is given a set of tools and trained in such a way as to apply them to meet these objectives.  This way, if unseen variables occur during a fight it is less problematic to the practitioner.  He simply continues to select tools to accomplish his strategic goal.  His mind does not become locked into attempting to perform a technique.  It remains fluid in it’s course to his objective.

This versatility allows the practitioner to responded more quickly to threats and allows for individual strengths to be exploited.  He does not have to remember what to use to forestall an attack, just that he needs to do so.  The situation will dictate how this is accomplished.  The process then becomes a goal oriented process, where the outcome is much more important that the way in which it is accomplished.

So how does one go about applying principle based training into his art?  Well, the good news is that you really don’t need to start all over again.  Think of it as a shift in mindset and fighting paradigm more than anything.

The first step is to look at what you’re doing in you style.  What are the strengths and weaknesses inherent to your system, and let’s face it, we all have weakness in our approaches to fighting.  That’s ok, despite what some people think.  The trick is to recognize them and work with them, not ignore them.

Really get a good feeling for what it is that you are doing.  The next step is to start thinking in broad, strategic strokes.  What is it that you are primarily to accomplish within your system in response to attack?  How do you plan on getting there?  What factors might stand in your way of doing this? How will you deal with these?  Remember, think big picture.    

Now, considering the strengths and weakness of your system, as well as the movements that you spend the most time using repetition to perfect, start mentally working though your best case response to a fight.  Start from the initial aggression and work through to the final end-game of the conflict.  Do this several times as realistically as possible.  Now, add situations where things go bad and you have to adapt.  With this information, start looking for similarities.  What is it that your system is teaching you to do from start to finish?  This will give you a good start on your framework.

For instance, if you are involved in a kicking art you might see yourself immediately moving in some way to gain distance and create a functional kicking gap in most of these situations.  It doesn’t matter if you do it via a stepping motion, retreating kick, or cartwheel.  What matters is that your initial motion is to move to a range where you can deploy your most dangerous weapon.  How you do that will become drills you work on to fulfill what has just become your first principle: Create distance.  No longer will you simply practice the transition to a back-stance in response to a predetermined attack.  Now you will consider it one of many tool used to create distance.  You will drill it against variable attacks, you will transition to other methods of gaining distance if it doesn’t work.  Your framework now has it’s first piece.  Remember, this is an example only.  I don’t claim to be a kicker.

Once you’ve established a set of principles, experiment.  Do they function across the board?  Will they hold up under the stress of varied attacks and situations?  Do they make intuitive sense to students who can then see intrinsic value in their application. 

If the don’t hold up, change them.  You may not get it right the first time.  Once they hold up in controlled drilling, will they do so in free-fight training?  Especially in simulation drills.

Now that you’ve established a framework of principles, how do you apply them to teaching/training?  Good question.

First, you start by teaching within the context of the principles.  Everyone has to understand why they are doing things.  This is why the framework needs to be intuitive to your individual style.  Once developed, use them.  Not just as questions on a belt test but also as an overarching theme to training.

Continue using repetition to prefect skills that you formerly thought of as techniques.  Now, practice them as movements; they are now tactics to accomplish you principles.  This is very much a mindset component to you training.  Once skill is developed in movement, there is no right or wrong answer to how a principle is fulfilled.  There is only well preformed movement and movement that needs worked on.  Principles that are adhered to and those that are ignored.  This is the new paradigm of your training and what will determine success or failure during the real thing.

A key component then becomes spontaneous attack and defense drills.  This allows students to respond to a threat chosen at random by the attacker.  It is a drill that allows for individual application of strengths unique to them and teaches them not to become rigid in their responses.  This is when they get a feel for applying principles free form and worry less about how they accomplish this.  You can certainly define the type of drills done to focus on specific scenarios.  For instance, you might limit them to grab defenses, to a tightly controlled set of attacks, knife threats, knife attacks, etc.  Only your training needs and your imagination can define these.  Contact levels can be altered as well based on what you are needing to work on.  At a lighter contact level, you may treat it as no armor and surface contact only.  For realistic simulation, you may armor them with caged head gear and kempo or mma gloves as well as knee and elbow pads and have them go at it.  Again, your specific training needs will determine this. 

Always continue experimenting and testing your principles, this is how growth occurs.  Test them with the spontaneous drills to see if they hold up.  Modify them if needed.  As you learn new movements from other sources, consider how they fit into your principles and therefore your strategy.  This will give you a good feel for not only how to train them, but also how to apply them within your current game plan.  This process creates a highly individualized fighter.  One who utilizes his own strengths withing the framework rather than mimicking his instructor.  This creates a fighter who is much more likely to successfully defend himself.

There it is.  Principle based training in a nutshell.  For those who are curious as to what a completed format looks like, I’ve included those used in the art I work out of.  I’ve posted them before, but I include a brief version here for examples sake.  They are not my own thoughts, they are the principles that I was taught and have held up well through years of doing this.

Step 1) Evade.

At it’s simplest, this is getting out of the way of an attack.  It may be through parry, redirection, open evasion, or blocking.

Step 2) Stun.

Again, simply stated, this is hitting the attacker back.  This serves as both a way to damage him as well as a distraction applied so that his mind is occupied with something other than attacking you.  This can be strikes of any kind at any range.

Step 3) Unbalance.

This is taking the individual center.  It can be as little as a destabilizing tug on a trapped arm or as complex as a takedown.  In this step you move to a superior position over your attacker and make it more difficult for him to do damage to you.

Step 4) Control.
This is control of the attacker as well as the entire situation.  It could be a joint manipulation, a choke from standing or the ground, a knock out, any of these will do.

A quick side note.  These should kind of go in this order.  However, in the fluidity of a fight, some movements will sever multiple functions.  For example, in response to a wide hook, one might evade by slipping under the strike.  A stun could follow as you drag a counter hook of your own behind the initial evasion.  It makes contact and knocks the attacker cold.  In this case, it serves as a controlling motion as well because the bad guys is taking a nap on the ground.  If you really wanted to split hairs, it is also an unbalancing movement because he had to lose balance to fall.  At this point, I’ll just be glad he’s out and I’m fine and leave the fine points to the post-event breakdown.

I hope this helps explain not only the basics of principle based training but also gives those interested a guide to developing their own set of principles.  Hopefully, if noting else, it will help give some ideas about more fluid training tactics and mind set training.  Thanks for taking the time to read.

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