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Train for what happens most,
and you will be able to handle
most of what happens.

Training Conflicts, Assumptions and Screwups
Or: train for germane circumstances

On this page:
Take the Test | Training to Lose? | Training for Success | Get Other Training 

In many Concealed Carry Permit classes, they paint a very graphic picture, you are home and asleep. A window breaks and your children start screaming. You grab your gun and, as you are heading towards the crisis, a crazed maniac with a knife kicks in your bedroom door and charges you. You shoot him and he falls to the ground, the knife flying from his hand. As you are moving past him to check on the children, the wounded attacker threatens to kill you and your family. You shoot him again before you rush off to see about the safety of your children.

Unfortunately, in most states you have just committed either second degree murder or manslaughter.

Because he was laying on the floor, without a weapon, he was not an immediate threat. Pumped up on adrenalin, fear and horror over what has just happened -- and the additional verbal threat -- you have just crossed a legal boundary in most states. An awareness of this reality is what civilian firearms training is hopefully going to instill within you. They teach you about these boundaries so you don't cross the line.

There is however, another very serious problem. Older military training, or combat experience, teaches you to automatically put another round or two into a downed combatant as you move forward to secure the next fire zone. That is what you are trained to do to stay alive in combat. He doesn't even have to be conscious to threaten you, you just automatically pump extra rounds into him as you pass to check on your children.

Therein lies the problem. Combat training is inappropriate for a civilian context. The same training that will keep you alive in combat, will put you into prison in a civilian/home defense situation. And just as importantly, the training that will keep you out of prison in a civilian context will get you shot in the back in combat.

There is no one, unilateral training that works for everything.

Just because you are trained in one particular system does not mean you are qualified for others. Different training prepares you for different strategic goals. We use the term "strategic goals" to differentiate between just "winning" and achieving an objective as a part of a larger strategy. Why is this important?

Simply stated: Winning is not enough. Your actions must be appropriate to the circumstances and part of a larger strategy. People who are deeply enmeshed in fantasy self-defense or killer kung fu commando styles, in short people who pride themselves about how well prepared they are for a "REAL" fight don't want to hear this. In fact, they will often respond with such profound insights as "I'd rather be judged by 12 than carried by 6" or "there are no rules in a streetfight"

Really? Ask the guy in the prison cell who put two rounds into a downed opponent about rules and reality.

The different objectives and factors are what determine both the standards of, and the content of different training. The training path you need to pursue is one that is germane to your circumstances. Do not assume -- as so many people do -- that one set of training will apply to all conditions.


Take the Test
Many systems claim to be able to teach you how to defend yourself. In fact, some go so far as to claim to be "reality based self-defense."  Well, while there is no doubt that they are focusing on some important issues that you need to be able to perform, there are just a few more elements of reality than how ferocious of a fighter you are and how good a fighting system they claim to teach.

Martin Cooper is an English Police officer, training officer and a certified instructor in both the International Police Defensive Tactics Association and the British Combat Association. It should also be pointed out that Martin is a member of his Constabulary's crisis response team. He's the guy the other cops call for help. As such, Mr. Cooper gets more live-fire experience with violence every month than most so-called self-defense instructors have had in their entire lives. Below is his excellent summation of what you need to "win" a violent confrontation.

1) You must be able to perform (without freezing or your "technique" falling apart)
2) You must defeat your opponent (before he harms you)
3) You must be cleared of all criminal charges (what you did must be legal)
4) You must be cleared of all civil charges (what you did must allow you favorable judgment when sued)

If you are indeed interested in self-defense, then you will compare what you are training in against these standards. How does what you are training in prepare you for to handle this four front challenge? Does your training include a legitimate and court tested set of standards about use of force? Does it train you on how to avoid conflict? And when you can't, this is a critical part of explaining to authorities what you did to prevent it. Does it teach you how to recognize danger signals and explain to responding officers why it was necessary to use the degree of force you did? Does it teach you how to control and work with the adrenalin rush instead of it controlling you? Does it warn you about the psychological aftermath of violence (e.g. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)?

If your instructor isn't training you in these issues as well, he's not training you for self-defense. You are training for something else. Something that will either get you killed or in deep legal trouble if you ever use it outside the safety and confines  of the school.

There is no legitimate training system that "stands alone." Training is always part of a larger picture, a larger strategy. Therefore, training must reflect the realities and the factors involved in what you are training for.

These issues are complicated enough without the interjection of fantasy training and macho bravado.

Unfortunately, there are trends in the MA/SD culture that swing to either extreme. Either inconvenient issues are ignored in the pursuit of the ultimate combat system (including personal motivation), or, to the other extreme, the training is claimed to be all encompassing. In the former, these issues are brushed aside, in the latter they are incredibly vague.


Training to lose?
When we discuss how complicated training is we are often confronted by the question "Are you telling people to just give up?" Are we saying "That people can't fight back without being in greater danger from the courts?"


It is interesting, however, to note that those questions often come from people who want the subject to only be about one thing, usually knowing the ultimate fighting system or the "I'd just shoot him crowd." Even more scary, is the person who is just "itching" to find an excuse to unleash their killer-kung-fu- commando training on a "bad guy"  Do NOT underestimate this motivation for training, in yourself or in others. There are many people attracted to MA/RBSD/WSD training who are looking to extract revenge for past wrongs. Often what these people are seeking from training is not the ability to avoid violence, but permission to use it. They want an excuse to "go off." In fact, some even come to this training with the idea of being able to use their fighting skills to get insurance for their bad behavior. The idea is: Now that they know how to fight they can say or do anything they want and nobody can stop them.

Is it any wonder that such people would object to the idea that self-defense training is not a carte blanche? Because that is certainly how they react when we say that there are other factors you must consider.

What we are saying is that your actions must be in accord with both legal and situational standards. The two, while not exactly the same, are very interrelated. Failure to meet either will get you either thrown into prison or killed. As such: ANY training that you undergo must be to prepare you for these realities.

It must train you to be able to function within these two parameters -- no matter what the circumstances. It must keep you alive as well as out of trouble with the authorities. This is why we say self-defense training is different than combat training; which is different than martial arts training, etc., etc..

We would NEVER tell anyone to just give up because the big bad courts will get them. What we will tell you is that it is up to you to engage in training that prepares you for reality -- and not just what you want reality to be about.


Training for Success
Any instructor in personal safety can tell you about encounters with What-If-Monkeys (WIMS). These are people who are always asking what to do if the move doesn't work. Apparently these people are expecting to be fighting werewolves without any silver bullets, because in their imaginations they are always dreaming up scenarios where they are facing unstoppable opponents. Opponents, who despite receiving everything up to and including fatal damage, will continue their beserk attack.

Aside from the obvious answer of "train in effective movement," we must consider the significance of this attitude and its influence on training. Putting it bluntly, these are the people who are training to lose. And their influence has had a serious negative effect on training.

The reason we say this is these people are not training for success.

Because they don't think anything short of a total kung-fu-killer-commando blitzkrieg will stop an attacker they don't want to train with checks and balances. Basically, since they expect everything short of an equally beserk counter to fail, then they don't have to worry about all those messy little details like appropriate use of force. Why learn that when anything less than 27 lethal strikes won't stop him?

We got the idea of training for success from firearms instruction. It is a subject that has a radically different approach to training than MA/SD/RBSD/WSD. One where, if you pull that trigger, there will be results. Maybe not as fast as you would like them to happen, but results will happen. Therefore, a significant part of firearms instruction for personal safety revolves around the complications of what you do working. If you pull that trigger, you had damned well better be justified -- and know when to stop pulling it. Because there will be consequences arising from that success (1)

Not only do your moves have to work, but you have to clean up the mess afterwards. If your training does not cover both of these aspects then odds are there is an underlying assumption that it won't work in the first place. That is something you seriously need to consider before you rely on it saving your hide in a violent confrontation.

And if it is all that come they aren't training you for handling success?

Get Other Training
"Failure to train is training to fail" is a saying I picked up from a police training officer. That attitude sums up the problem of only staying in one localized area of training. More specifically it really identifies the problems of thinking that one set of training is everything you need.

I often tell people who are interested in learning knife work that the first thing they need to do is take Massad Ayoob's Judicious Use of Lethal Force course. Apparently it is a shock to these people to realize that a knife falls under the same jurisprudence as a gun i.e. a lethal force instrument. As such much of what is taught out there as "knife fighting" is literally the equivalent of the military training of putting two rounds into a downed corpse. Good on the battlefield, bad in a civilian context. I say this because much of modern knife training -- no matter how much the so-called experts will protest this point -- trains you to inflict wound patterns that are consistent with knife homicides. It's hard to convince the judge that it was self-defense when the last 99 cases he saw with those same wounds were murders.

Don't just limit yourself to martial arts training, shooting training, knife fighting training or defensive tactics training. Go out and get as wide of a spectrum of training as possible. See the different levels that you are likely to encounter. Don't just believe one person, or information from just one specialty. Get information from as wide of a spectrum of sources as possible.

Remember, it's your butt that will be in the sling if you don't.

Return to top

1) In case you are surprised, yes, we are shooters. Even though we do not teach shooting, we are conversant in firearms. Simply stated, shooting is just another level in personal safety. Return to Text.

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