By Larry Zabel Sgt. US Army Infantry (Ret)
This is my first article to MilSim Magazine and I just wanted to use this article to of introduce myself and who I am as a martial arts instructor/self defense teacher and where I’m at on my own martial arts journey. I took a moment to reflect on the long history of martial arts study I’ve taken (now 36 years +) and stopped to consider all the techniques taught to me by my teachers, taught to them and so on. What struck me is the universal notion that it all works.
In academic terms, yes it all works. In practical terms not so much, some things that might work for one person, may not work for someone else. Not everyone has the skill, coordination, body type, flexibility, dedication, ability or even interest in learning an entire curriculum. Even if a student spends years studying and learning an entire schools curriculum there are a certain set of techniques, concepts and principals that student and teacher will gravitate towards because of that person’s physical body makeup and natural tendencies. In other words Bruce Lee has been famously quoted, “Absorb what is useful, discard what is useless and add what is specifically your own”. To that adage I add, “Know when to break the rules altogether!” That last part I added on my own and it has been my martial mantra for more than two decades.
I remember doing countless drills of kicks and punches in the air and for what? Muscle memory? Wrote learning? Historical preservation? Moving meditation? Perhaps. When I joined the Army and was an infantryman my martial arts philosophy permanently changed. Now, as a teacher I look at things differently. Curriculum, class structure, live action scenario training, interactive drills, coordination exercises, If they aren’t effective I don’t do it and I won’t teach it. Even terminology. I used to be pretty good at spiting out the names of techniques in a foreign language and the students looking at me funny. Not anymore, unless it’s is quick concept not easily explained in English.
Let’s take kicking for example. We can all agree that the artistry required to be effective at kicking is demanding, precise, powerful and lethal in the right circumstance and application. It takes years to develop the strength stamina and precision to be an effective kicking machine, so to speak. So, what about the ordinary person who works a 40 hour job, has a family and doesn’t dedicate his every waking breath to the study and preservation of martial knowledge?
Here is where we get to the nitty gritty of my premise “Know when to break the rules altogether” is applied. In America today we are flooded with images of exceptional martial athletes doing death defying stunts or competing in the MMA Arena. Neither is going to work for the average man or woman out there interested in self defense. I no longer teach every kicking technique because in practical terms there are only 3 that actually get the job done with minimal time invested, skill development and limited flexibility the average student can pull off if ever needed. Front kick, Cross Checking Kick, and Low to Mid Level Round Kicks. I do still teach crescent kicks, side kicks, hook kicks, spinning kicks and they’re variants but they require time and technique development outside of safe usage for a beginner. I personally no longer actively practice the “fancy” kicks because in a self defense scenario it just wouldn’t be practical. Is there a legitimate place for these techniques and preservation? Absolutely!
Back to my ongoing point. Once you analyze the motions you realize they are not overly complicated, require no extra special balancing, or even above average flexibility. However, each one can deliver powerful debilitating blows in a defensive posture or finishing techniques in an attacking mode. The point I’m making is that we as “Instructors” have to put ourselves into our students lives momentarily and understand the daily stresses they’re dealing with and deliver fast effective solutions to potential problems everyday life may throw at them. If you have a student whose main goal is to defend themselves and leave after six months (if that) then adjusting your teaching method to help that student could be a winning strategy.
There is also a different breed of student that this practical training philosophy I have applies. The “Tactical Professional” can ill-afford years of dedicated training nowadays with the amount of time away on deployment or in the streets on patrol. They need our deepest knowledge, best concepts, and training applications in a short amount of time. They need all of this in order to be well rounded, mission ready, and qualified for the battle on patrol, active watch, downrange or in the field.
These professionals have to understand what works quickly and effectively with minimal time invested. With limited time for skill development and minimal flexibility because of the time constraints, we need to prepare our students for mission readiness schedules, environmental variables, protective gear, movement in close quarters, mission essentials, and weapons carried. The curriculum must be simple, effective and lethal to the enemy. It should also be demoralizing to the suspect and debilitating for those captured for questioning or intelligence gathering. All must hasten the stop of the fight and mitigate injury to the professional user.
My point about kicking earlier in this article takes on a different premise here. In tactical situations with full kit, weapons, and restrictive/hostile environments being strong influencing variables, heavy adrenaline flow will be produced and the premise for kicking effectively will be limited to simple, effective, and fast (gross motor movement). The way the body moves in a combat situation with heavy gear is different than how the body moves unencumbered out on the streets. The overall premise still applies, but the reasons for it are different and the way it is trained changes as well. Understanding operational conditions impacts the training environment, what is trained, why and how training is conceived and implemented. Understanding and being able to deliver effectively takes on new purpose with lives at stake, so the responsibility as an instructor takes on new levels of meaning, purpose, and accountability.
There are always going to be the dedicated students that you throw all your knowledge, heart and soul into. For the students that don’t have that time, dedication, and drive, this might be a prudent way to teach those folks who need it quick and dirty without sacrificing knowledge, skill, your integrity or their personal safety. For the tactical professional among your student base this training philosophy is especially critical for them because they are putting their life on the line with the knowledge you posses and disseminate.
These areas of tactical applications, principals, and concepts are what I will be focusing on here at MilSim Magazine. I hope you enjoy and learn from it. I know I will.
Train Right. Train Smart.