Sunday, 04 August 2019 18:29

Spreadsheets, Processes, Goal Setting and Developing Training Plans

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Let’s start with something you (hopefully) already know. Combat sports and self-defence are not the same thing.

If you think they are, then I recommend you read this. If you still don’t believe me, then you should probably stop reading here.

At the same time, there is so much that self-defence practitioners can learn from combat sports! You can read more about this here. Again, if you still don’t believe me then you should probably stop reading here.

So, if you are still reading then hopefully, we are on the same page.  So, let’s talk about some of the training methods that are useful for both, how they cross over, and at a great structure and toolkit for your training.

Ready? Read on!

Before we start, let me highlight the fact that I really, really like spreadsheets. I also really like to be able to put things into processes and procedures with logical sequences. I also think it’s important to add that I am the quintessential ’10,000 repetitions’ guy. I learn best by doing rep after rep of the same thing to really nail something. With that in mind, what is to follow is a spreadsheet, processes-oriented way to build a training plan or training process for yourself. Here we go!

For the most part, the learning process in combative martial arts (and for pretty much anything) is as follows:

  1. Work on developing skills
  2. Test those skills
  3. Analyse performance
  4. Work on improving skills

With this particular approach we will look at 3 elements that you should consider in your training:

  1. Contact – I am a firm believer that if you are not training with contact, you are training to fail in the context of real-world violence. Contact should vary from light to hard/full, depending on your goal and experience. I don’t believe that you should train with full contact (i.e. trying to really knock each other out) in every session, or even regularly. Simply put, the risk of serious injury, especially from doing this regularly, is too great. Interesting side note – more and more top MMA fighters now understand this and limit their hard sparring sessions.
    That being said, you definitely need to do it every so often, and in a safe way, to learn how to deal with it. The flip side of that is that you also need to train hitting things (and people) to know how hard you hit, how to protect your body when you hit, condition you body, etc.

  2. Resistance – training without resistance is a great way of developing technique. But it also gives a false sense of confidence. Training with anything from light to full resistance is crucial to testing your skills under pressure. It’s important to highlight that resistance can mean two things. Firstly, it means the person you are training with will not let you apply what you are trying to apply. Secondly, it means that the person you are training with will try and apply things back on you.

  3. Unpredictability – If you only train for the same one or two responses every time, you are making dangerous assumptions about how violence happens. Here is the most common example I see – 'When you hit the guy with a right hand, he drops'. But what happens if he doesn’t? What are the possible ways that he can react? Richard Dimitri has some great discussions on this, and I recommend you check them out. Obviously some responses are more likely than others, and we should dedicate more time to them. And we don’t waste time on things that are so unlikely as to virtually never happen (i.e. I hit the guy with a right hand and he turns into a werewolf and tries to eat me). But falling into the same routine and not preparing for the additional options is setting you up to fail. Lastly, dealing with unpredictable responses also means understanding and developing your own responses to different situations. 

Now let’s relate these three things into the 5 methods of practising in the martial arts. This is often discussed by Stephen Kesting and he’s got some really great videos on the topic. 

The 5 methods of training are:

  1. Kata (and I include shadowboxing, kinda)
  2. Pad drills
  3. One step sparring
  4. Limited sparring
  5. Free sparring

It’s important to note that sparring can be interchangeable with scenario or pressure testing in this case, or any other method of testing your skills ‘for real’.

So how do these fit in the 3 criteria above?













Partner drills

Light to hard

None to some

None or some

One-step or limited sparring

Light to hard

Some to full

A little to a lot

Free sparring

Light to hard

Medium to full

A lot

All of these have value, and focus on different things. That being said, if our goal is to learn to deal with real contact, resistance and unpredictable responses we need to work towards, and spend time regularly in, the bottom of that list.

So how you put this into a training plan?

  1. Pick a set of skills you want to work on
  2. Use low contact, resistance and highly predictable responses to develop the skill initially. Use single person training (kata, shadow) and pads/equipment to do this.
  3. Use some contact, resistance and less predictable responses to put the skills into a combative context
  4. Use free sparring/pressure drills – contact, resistance and unpredictable responses - to test them.
  5. Analyse your performance (and I do recommend writing it down). Think about what needs improving and get feedback from your coach and partners (more on this here).
  6. Go through the cycle again.

Let’s sum up. If you want your training to be effective in the context of combat (whether for sport or self-defence), you need to look at dealing with contact, and you need to be comfortable with both giving and receiving contact (more on this here). You need to learn how to implement and change your plan and tactics when someone doesn’t allow you to do what you want, and tries to do something back to you. And you need to prepare for a variety of potential responses, which also includes your own responses to the other person.

If you’ve been training a while, you probably know this and I’m not saying anything new. But where this becomes handy is when you are trying to optimise your training towards specific results in a limited time. Use the table to construct a little training schedule for yourself, and consider how you are dealing with each of these 3 elements through those 5 training methods on a regular basis. Review each on a regular basis (for example weekly) and you’ll have a pretty good road map for achieving results!

Stay safe, stay tuned.


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