Wednesday, 01 August 2018 16:04

Under Pressure: Thoughts on Resistance, Contact and Pressure Testing

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Krav Maga practitioners love talking about pressure tests, and it is a staple of most self defence systems. We take a set of techniques or scenarios, and pressure test them to see if things really work. They are also an important part of regular training, whereas you are supposed to be put under a lot of pressure and perform when you are not in your optimum.

This is, without a doubt, very important in self-defence training. But it’s just as important in other martial arts training. A common thing to hear at CAIA during BJJ and Striking sessions is the instructors saying ‘pressure!’ over and over and over again.

But what does ‘pressure’ actually mean? Are there different ways of applying pressure? How much is too much or not enough?

Often the image that comes to mind when people talk about pressure tests in Krav Maga is having an instructor wearing camo pants and aviators shouting at you to hit the bags until someone grabs you from behind, at which point you kick them in the balls and get back to the bag. Or something very similar. This is certainly common enough. But let's look at pressure and pressure testing in a bit more depth:


The idea behind pressure tests is, as the name suggests, to test things under pressure. In most martial arts this would be done in sparring. However, seeing as self-defence focuses on a different way of applying techniques sparring is not always the best way to test whether something works (that’s not to say you shouldn’t spar. The opposite is true – more on this here).

The premise is that the need to defend oneself is greatest when one is most vulnerable – tired, sick, distracted, injured, etc. Pressure tests are designed to put you in that state through various means. The most common is to make you to a ton of cardio in a short amount of time so you are tired, and then deal with a situation – a particular type of attack, or multiple attackers, etc. There a lot of good lessons in these. They are a great fitness boost, they help to push one’s mental fortitude and they help figure out what works for you when you are unable or don’t have time to think.

Why Not?

I have written the Dojo Syndrome series of articles about common problems with training for self-defence. You can find them here, here, here and here, in order from first to last. A lot of these problems arise in pressure drills. The most common ones that come to mind are a lack of contact, follow ups by the attacker and other such things that allow the defender to always win. When done badly, they give a false sense of confidence.

It has to be said that safety also plays an important role here. As one gets better, the levels of contact and difficulty can increase.

The other thing that is important to note is that pressure testing and scenario training are not always the same. They should not be confused. Scenarios are generally more complex and should involve a more ‘complete’ situation, from start to finish, whereas you try to replicate a real situation as closely as possible, while keeping the participants safe. It requires a degree of acting. The people who are the and guys need to know how to be good bad guys. Things like body language, pre-incident indicators, language, etc. all come into play.
Pressure testing may have no semblance to reality. That’s not to say it’s not a good way of training certain things, but you should always be aware of the pros and cons of every drill that you do. 

But… What is it?!

There is more than one way to add pressure to a drill. Let’s look at a few:

  1. No Touch KO – the harder the contact, the more pressure. This is simply because the consequences of failing are more severe. This doesn’t mean you have to train full contact all the time, however you do have to train with some contact 100% of the time. Work your way up to hard contact, much like you do in sparring. Don’t aim to miss!
  2. Stay on him! – one of the most common errors, highlighted in the Dojo Syndrome series, is what I refer to as the ‘one hit wonder’. This is where attackers throw one strike with no follow up, which is unrealistic. Again the level of pressure can be scaled from slow but continuous attacks to a full on blitz. The same thing can be done with any type of technique. For example, wrist grabs – as soon as you release, the attacker grabs again, in another way, etc.
  3. We Are the (no) Resistance! – again this a very common mistake, perhaps the most common in much of the training I’ve seen. The attacker will offer little to no resistance. This is often done with good intentions. By wanting to help their partner, the attackers become too compliant and just give the technique. There is a time to do this, but it’s not all of the time, every time. If you can’t do it with full resistance, then you can’t do it at all.
  4. Winning the Oscars – as mentioned above, some acting is important when doing scenario training. You need to know how to be a good bad guy. When this becomes a problem is when the attacker’s responses become too predictable because they know how they are supposed to act. For example, I kick you in the balls, you double over. I throw a palm heel strike to the face, you snap your head back. While these may be the responses, they are not the only possible responses. Training for unpredictable responses is a key to success – again, sparring comes to mind!
  5. No Rest for the Wicked – This is the one discussed previously. Simply put, the idea is to push through when you are tired and to never give up!


Summarising. Pressure can mean:

1. Physical pressure – Using bodyweight, energy, work rate or contact to increase resistance and difficulty.
2. Mental pressure – training through fatigue, fear, adrenal dump, surprise, etc.

What are we working towards?

Simulating reality as closely as possible, as safely as possible, while training with resistance, contact and unpredictable responses.

Add some pressure!!!

Stay safe, stay tuned


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