Aliveness in Training

What is live training?

  1. A number of martial artists now use the phrase “live (or alive) training” to distinguish more combative and improvisational practice from choreographed routines
  2. I would guess that the term must have come from the military, as in live fire training exercises
  3. Great benefits are claimed for training in an alive fashion
  4. Is it aliveness that brings the benefit, or just use of better techniques?
  5. Was aliveness responsible for improvement in some art through evolution of more workable techniques?
  6. I will try to shed some more light on this through my arguments.

What are we trying to accomplish?

  1. We do not all share the same goals for training
  2. What is the context?
  3. Context is highly variable– see other article for details –
  4. Context is everything
  5. I have said this before, but what works in one context might be horribly unsafe in another
  6. You could be a reasonably good grappler, but get beaten by your assailant’s friends
  7. A better solution would have been to run, negotiate, or employ a superior weapon (this may always be a better solution).
  8. You might find that all your boxing or grappling skill is negated by someone with a weapon, no matter how live your training, and how good you became.
  9. You might find that live training as a Thai boxer was of very little use on an ice slicked street and that grappling would be a better solution – even grappling done without much live training might be better – context again.
  10. Techniques workable in one context can be inappropriate in another.

Claims of the aliveness proponents

  1. There are a number of proponents of aliveness. These include practitioners of Japanese Ju Jitsu (JJJ) versus judo and Brazilian Ju Jitsu (BJJ)
  2. The general claim is that judo is better than the parent Ju Jitsu arts because competitive training is part of the educational routine. The claim is made that the predecessors to judo only used choreographed training (e.g. Two person kata) and therefore exponents did not develop the same level of skill. The claim is also made that by eliminating the more dangerous Ju Jitsu techniques, a more intense competitive training could be used without as much risk of injury to the practitioners.

What are the situational constraints?

  1. Constraints may be environmental, ethical, legal, personal, situational, financial, temporal
  2. Ethics and law are in general constraints, even in a street fight, and theoretically in warfare. In practice, they govern some folks more than others.

What if the context is sport?

  1. Sport – no matter what is said, sport has rules – either written or tacit – even if the sport claims to have no rules, the rule of law still applies
  2. There are reputedly “underground” contests where there truly are no rules – these should be indistinguishable from street fights in some respects, but the assumption is that the two fighters should both be matched on skill to some degree. There is also not uncertainty about the fact that both are there to fight – otherwise it is an assault.
  3. In most matches, even if the intent of one or both fighters is to kill (as claimed by one MMA fighter in a public internet forum), the corner can still throw in the towel, a fighter can yield (tap out), or the referee can stop the match (rare where this does not happen).
  4. The time and place of the bout is fairly predictable, and the fighters know that it is highly unlikely that one will pull out a gun. In some areas, I suppose that is less certain.

What if the context is predation?

  1. True predation (mugging, gang beating, other assault) brings a level of intensity and unpredictability that may go well beyond any sensible live training
  2. The technical ability or the predator may not be as high as you might find amongst the better competitor, but the willingness to injure or kill may be there – the assault may be brutally furious, with full intent to maim

Which arts use live training?

  1. Which arts have live training? Aliveness is surely a matter of degree. As you relax the constraints on what the practitioners do while training, you increase the degree of aliveness.
  2. Muay Thai, western boxing, kick boxing, judo, Brazilian Ju Jitsu, Sambo, wrestling and other have all been held up as examples of arts with very alive training. I don’t think that the situation is quite as clear as that. I will discuss this later.

 What is the state of the art in alive training?

  1. Have all the best techniques been discovered by mixed martial arts (MMA) practitioners?

  2. The best technique today may not be the best tomorrow

  3. Other techniques will be invented, reinvented, or discovered elsewhere.

  4. Existing techniques will be improved for new contexts.

Is competition training?

  1. Is competition live training? This could be a point for debate. In general, you do your training for the competition, and don’t do competitions as your main vehicle for training. However, there are lessons learned in competition that will not be easily learned in any other way. The same can be said for dealing with combative situations outside of the training or sporting environment.

Is aliveness everything in the development of a fighter?

  1. We are not all equal in our native gifts, and we cannot all train to a level of consistent tournament success
  2. There are a number of other crucial factors just as important as live training. These include commitment, quality of instruction, motivation, tenacity, temperament (timid, aggressive; kind or mean; empathetic or cold; inoffensive or viscous; easily discouraged or tenacious; ….), character, background (brutalized when young, always in fights, etc.)

Why does alive training work?

  1. Alive training helps a fighter perfect technique against resisting opponents and develop skill that will work in context:

    • Deeper degree of learning

    • Learning to see possibilities more quickly

    • Learn to deal with is a resisting opponent and adapt to changing circumstances in real time
    • Learn to counter more effectively and learn to counter the opponent’s counters

    • Ability to deal with increases intent on the part of the opponent, who will now be trying harder, becoming more intense, more fierce, more formidable

    • Learn to handle high intensity – rate, speed, power, sophistication

    • Learn to deal with pain and stress

 How much better is alive training?

  1. There seems to be a much better success rate in competition, formal or informal, for those who have a considerable degree of aliveness in their training, but that is not the whole story. Some techniques are better than others, some training regimes are better than others, some teachers are better than others, and some students are better than other. The phrase “better than others” must be taken to mean within context of the objectives of your game. Lots, probably most, have some degree of aliveness in their training. In fact, the issue may not be the aliveness of the training, but the appropriateness of the techniques of the art for the context.

Choreography and improvisation mix

  1. I will use improvisation as the opposite of choreography ( even though I don’t like improvisation, I don’t have a better term yet)
  2. In the improvisational context, your partner will act more like an opponent, and respond more realistically and unpredictably
  3. Your partner will give you resistance and make it harder for you to succeed with your technique
  4. Choreography is characterized by a fixed solo routine or a cooperative routine with a partner
  5. The response of the attacker is not what you would get in a real situation, in many examples of the genre.
  6. Practice can vary along some continuum between pure choreography and pure improvisation
  7. Without choreography, there can be art – just raw and naive technique and personal attributes

  8. All arts need some choreography – how much is needed – what sorts are needed?
  9. There is a continuum for total cooperation, through varying degrees of resistance to full competition
  10. Methods range from solo choreography, two person choreography, to almost fully competitive approaches
  11. Without choreography, there is no transmission of technique, there skill depends on intuition and native ability – this is not way to develop an art

Handling an adaptive opponent

  1. Live training is a means to improve your ability to respond. Through live training, you learn how to adapt:
  • To higher levels of intensity
  • To resisting opponents who always attempt to counter
  • To greater uncertainty in what will happen next
  1. This will teach you grace under pressure, and the ability to modify your technique to handle your opponent’s counters

Resisting opponents

  1. Live training means that you are fighting resisting opponents
  2. But, is this not true of any sporting ma (e.g., tae kwon do) – what is different – do you learn to adapt better, counter the counter
  3. Can this not be taught as structured counter for counter?
  4. Resistance – cooperation – how compliant is your partner – with full compliance, you don’t learn to deal with uncertainty, don’t learn to deal with unpredictability, don’t learn to adapt to changed circumstances, don’t learn to counter the counter

Dealing with uncertainty

  1. Uncertainty – converse of predictability
  2. Predictability – training can vary in terms of predictability – what are the constraints (spoken or unspoken) put on the situation – live but no throws, live but light contact, live but one point contact (not very live), live and no limitations on technique, but limits on damage, live with no limitations on technique or on damage, street fight, warfare, …
  3. Uncertainty gives one dimension – there is much more uncertainty in any true fight than there is any sporting arena – however, there is one area of greater certainty – if you are well trained in MMA, you have good reason to believe that you can beat most people based on any number of factors – ranging from technique to personal attributes – you have verified this in the ring against opponents who are skilled – you also know that the history of BJJ and MMA challenge matches shows that most MMA fighters can toy with many other fighters, at least in context. However, to what extent is this belief justified? If it is justified, is it simply because live training gives superior results, or are there other factors?
  4. Why do other competitive martial sports not count as having live training?

Effect of intensity on rate, power, speed

  1. Intent – you can vary the intent of your technique, from just placing a blow out there in a cooperative fashion, to really attempting to hit your partner (or opponent) hard
  2. Targeting can vary as well – some styles always aim off the target to avoid injury – this does not give your partner a good sense of how to deal with a real technique thrown with some intensity.
  3. Intent to hurt – you can have a sporting competition where there is intent to hurt your opponent badly – some machismo clubs carry that over into training with partners – bad idea in all
  4. Intensity – you can independently vary the intensity of your practice – you can increase the speed of attack, the rate of multiple attack, the force of your techniques, the unpredictability of your technique, the willingness to damage with your technique, the targeting of your technique, the strength used, and perhaps other factors
  5. Use of potentially damaging techniques in a controlled fashion – a lot of damaging submission and choking techniques can be done in a live fashion, thorough the “tap-out” mechanism
  6. Throws can be made more or less damaging by varying the intensity – hence the degree of aliveness – some throws are very damaging by their nature, and should not be executed in a very live fashion if you value the health of yourself or your training partner – you could just go with safer throws

Handling stress and pain

  1. Pain can impair your ability to defend – it will cause you to flinch, to be intimidated, or in some cases, give up
  2. Pain increases the level of stress considerably
  3. Stress results in release of adrenalin and an increase in heart rate – when heart rate goes way up, performance goes way down – fine and complex motor skills degrade drastically
  4. What sorts of training best prepares you to fight well despite pain?
  5. Live training improves the ability to handle pain, fear and other stressors – if your live training involves working at higher levels of contact, with grater impact and potential for damage, you will learn to deal with pain without suffering a complete breakdown of your technique due to psychologically being unprepared to deal with the pain and stress

Validation and verification

Validation and verification and evolution – personnel

  1. Sport can serve as a proving ground for personal skill
  2. Through both live training and competition, you find out how well you have developed you skill within the context of your game
  3. Sport can serve as a proving ground for worth of your personal techniques
  4. Through both live training and competition, you can determine which techniques work for you – and either refine or discard weapons from your arsenal

Verification and validation and evolution – for the art

  1. Live training can serve as a means to improve an art by refining of techniques, teaching methods, and elimination of techniques with poor workability
  2. When a number of students train in a live fashion, over time the art itself can be improved, at least within the context of the training
  3. It will become clear that certain techniques are not reliable, and should be either modified or discarded
  4. In this way, the art can evolve

 General recommendations

  1. Train smarter, not harder

  2. Injuries in training are the ones you will regret in your old age

  3. Look for the best tradeoffs, considering costs, benefits, risks, opportunities, and requirements in context

Costs and benefits

  1. Cost/benefit – so, if you are often getting injured during training, you may take more damage than you ever would in a street fight – in fact, most adults never do have a fight – in lots of places, few adult people are mugged, assaulted or robbed on the street
  2. Consequences – if your training is so live that your training partners or you are always injured, you will find that
    • People don’t want to train with you
    • Your training suffers due to downtime
    • There is a high rate of attrition amongst students
    • Lawsuits become more probable
    • Your life outside of training can be negatively affected

 Risk analysis

  1. There is risk in live training, there is risk in sporting competitions, there is risk on the street
  2. How much damage should be risked in training?
  3. Using protection can ameliorate the risk, but give some sense of false confidence too. You will not learn that unsafe techniques are unsafe. You will not learn to deal with pain. There is always a trade off.
  4. Even with safety gear, you will sometimes get hurt. Without safety gear, you will hurt more.

 Alternative approaches

  1. Graduated approaches to live training – live training does not imply that aliveness is all or nothing – your can vary somewhat independently the intensity, the potential for damage, the compliance of the opponent, the unpredictability of technique, and so on. You can do very limited drills that are still live in the sense that the training partner will not just compliantly let you execute the technique – it might be only one step in a much longer complex sequence, but it will be done in a live fashion
  2. Targeted and analytic coaching with partner work, where your coach tells you what do does as your work with an appropriately resisting opponent. You may be focusing on some small portion of a technique in order to understand it and the counters, and refine skill in that area. We call this counter for counter analysis by a skilled coach. It can be real time and step by step (or video if you can wait)

  3. Guided partner work, where you partner coaches you – requires cooperation more than competition

  4. Where is the best training regime? There are a range of good solutions, based upon analysis of the context and the tradeoffs. In the final analysis, the question is best answered empirically, which is what the BJJ and MMA folks claim to be doing.