A while ago I discussed the ‘Dojo Syndrome’. I received some very positive feedback about the first three articles (you can read them here, here and here), with many instructors saying ‘this is exactly what happens!’ and had a few requests to post some more tips. I hope this helps you with your training!
Here is a quick recap of what the ‘Dojo Syndrome’ is:
The 'Dojo Syndrome' is what happens when our training partners make our training unrealistic for the sake of making techniques work;
Now, before I get into why this is a bad habit, give some examples and offer some ways to get around it, I want to emphasise that in order to develop certain skills and attributes, we sometimes have to give in to the dojo syndrome, but it is important to remember that we are doing this on purpose, and understand why it is done in that way so that we don’t fool ourselves into thinking that what we are doing is realistic or effective when it may not be. In other words, be mindful of your training at all times!
Here are a few more common things to pay attention to in order to make your training more productive:
1. One Hit Wonder – This is one that seems obvious, yet so many times I have seen this happen. Some martial artists can hit really hard. Like, really hard. An old doorman I used to work with used to say that ‘80% of problems can be solved with a good straight right’. Perhaps because of that, a common mistake is that some practitioners train to block and deliver one strike and stop there, with the assumption that the one strike would be enough to always put an attacker down. Now while this may be the case some, or even most, of the time (80% if going by the previous statement), it is a dangerous assumption to make. What about the other 20%? Attackers who are on drugs, enraged or experienced may be able to take what you dish out and keep coming. Not only that, but assuming that one can nail the execution of technique and its placement every time is unrealistic at best. Lastly, this approach doesn’t take into account the attributes of the people defending themselves, in terms of size, power, etc. So what do we do? Practice delivering multiple strikes to different targets every time, using the ‘closest weapon, nearest target, best result’ principle as the guide to technique and placement. So how many strikes should you deliver? The answer is simple: As many as you need to create enough damage to ensure you can get away safely. It may be one, or it may be 50.
2. Cut, do another take – if someone attacks you with the intent of causing you real harm, you don’t get a second take. You get only once take. Often the way self defence techniques are practiced involve stopping and retrying in order to learn how to execute techniques perfectly, which is fine. But once a practitioner achieves a certain level of proficiency, the default option should be to flow into something else, and if that doesn’t work, do something else again, and so on and so forth, especially when running pressure tests. If you are pressure testing your skills, you don’t stop until the threat is ended and you can get away safely!
3. Flawless victory – Following on from the previous two points, is the assumption that if you execute everything correctly, you will not be hit during an altercation. When we take into account the complexities of real world violence such as multiple attackers, weapons, attacks that happen in less than ideal circumstances, etc., it is very unlikely to get away from a real attack completely unscathed. Of course we want to minimise how much damage we take (that’s why we train in the first place), but assuming you will never get hit is a naïve and dangerous assumption to make, and if you are never hit in training than if you ever got into a situation where you got hit for the first time you will be in for a nasty surprise!
4. Part of the solution or part of the problem? Real world violence does not happen in a vacuum. More often than not, there are indicators that something is about to happen, providing one is aware enough to note them, and knows what to look for. That being the case, if one is really after a complete self defence or self protection solution, the training must include identifying pre-incident indicators, using verbal Judo or de-escalation techniques, and so on. By only learning techniques that allow us to deal with physical violence, we neglect a large part of the problem. We may even make things worse as people will rely on the physical tools they have, rather than try and talk themselves out of the situation. Pressure drills are not enough; scenario training needs to be incorporated, where the goal of the scenario is to try and de-escalate rather than rely on physical force. Avoid first, avert second and attack third.
I hope these are helpful in making your training more productive. Remember - it is impossible to always train at full intensity and completely ignore all of the many Dojo Syndromes, but it is imcredibly important to be aware of when, where, who, why and how we include them in our training so we don't become too complacent.
Stay tune, stay safe