Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Unintended consequences

If you are developing a drill, exercise, or scenario to train a specific objective (your goal) be sure that you are not also ingraining unwanted behaviors.

Ok, so what do I mean?  Remember SMAKED? Several Minutes of Ass Kicking Every Day.  The premise is that small habits repeated daily will ingrain quality combat responses under stress.  If that premise is true (which I have found it to be) then it is also true that small bad habits will be ingrained as well.

To illustrate this point a story.  For some reason I’m not sure of, I think it was because of a Batman movie, I got into the habit of twisting my hand on the steering wheel every time I pushed on the gas.  Like pretending my hand was what was making the car go faster (small habit repeated daily).  While cross training in Goju Ryu Karate we were working on mae geri (basic front thrust kick).  The form I was taught was to curl your toes back pushing the ball of your foot forward (striking with the ball of your foot) That motion is similar to pushing on the gas.  Guess what?  Every time I kicked I twisted my wrist for no reason.  Sensei came by and asked why I was doing that.  I asked doing what?  I didn’t even know I was doing it.  Sensei came by again later and told me to stop doing that.  I told him I understand what I’m supposed to do, I agree with it, but my hand keeps doing this with out my permission.  The next day, while driving I noticed the silly bat mobile stuff I was doing and bells went off.  I changed driving like that and after consciously training to keep my hand straight I could finally do it.  Point of the story is that small habits repeated daily will DEEPLY ingrain responses either good or bad.

So when you develop training you have to check your method for unintended consequences.  One of the most startling examples of this comes from Law Enforcement fire arms training.  Shooting is fun.  Cleaning up brass (spent casings) sucks.  So range officers would have students empty their brass into their hands and put the brass in their pockets.  Sadly it took too many dead cops with pockets full brass for law enforcement trainers to realize that lazy range habits were unintentionally training cops to fail in combat (see also die).

I see this in martial arts all the time.  Students are taught to kick with their hands at their side “for Balance”.  Then, at black belt level (if ever) after they have better balance they are finally taught to keep their head protected while they kick.  Like magically the habits they have ingrained from day one through several years until they are black belts will disappear and be instantly replaced by better habits.  Sadly I see a lot of black belts trained in this method get their head taken off in friendly sparring.  You can imagine what would happen in a violent real world encounter.

So before you introduce a training method make sure you have a clear overall training goal.  Then be sure every part of the drill helps to achieve that overall training goal.  Review your existing methods and search for flaws.  Don’t let lazy Dojo habits unintentionally train your students (and yourself) to fail in combat (see also die).

Train hard – train real – be safe


  1. Great insight. Makes one pay a little closer attention to the things we do daily.. good and bad

  2. This is going to be from the students point of view.
    So, over the years I've stepped into a few dojo and never been happy as after you learn the basic they seem to lock you into the 'if they do this you do that' paterns of thought and muscle memory.
    I've always worred about forming bad habbits, as I have an outpilot thats really hard to turn off. I'm also always asking my self if this goes bad what could I do right now to get my self out of it. I'm not sure if this has hurt or hindered myself or not?
    But until real recently I haven't found anyone that I would want to larn SD from, as that would be my goal Self Defences.
    So after all that I guess what I'm trying to say is not only do the instructors need to know what the goal is but the students do to.