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 developing technique is obviously an important part of martial arts training. In fact, many people consider it the most important thing. But while technique is always important, we must remember that it must be practiced in 3 levels of resistance - no resistance, some resistance and full resistance. Failure to do so will inevitably result in the technique failing you when you need it against an opponent who has no respect for your technique, such as a street attacker.
So let's look at the most common 'dojo syndromes' and offer some ways to get around them:
1. 'The Dummy' - Your training partner punches (or kicks) and leaves the arm (or leg) outstretched in order to 'give you the technique'. Very common! And it's ok for the first few times, in order to get your technique right. But remember, a real attacker will not leave their arm for you to lock or break; they will punch and retract, only to attack again. The most obvious fix for this is simply not to leave the arm there! But this could ruin a whole training session quickly if it focuses on locks and restraints. So here is another idea - traditional martial arts as well as modern self-defence systems emphasise the concept of 'imbalance' or 'distraction'. Simply put, before we attempt any lock, throw, restraint, etc., we have to give ourselves the time and ‘pliability’ needed to do so. The best way to do that is to strike! The next time you are training with your partner and you throw a punch, make sure they counter in some way (strike, punch, kick, distraction, etc.), which will allow them to work the lock. Otherwise, retract your hand immediately. Both you and your partner will develop good habits from this!
2. 'The shaped fighter' - We are used to training ace to face with a training partner who also has training. The result, almost without fail, is that you stand in front of each other in a fighting stance and practicing the techniques from there. But we know that this is not the case outside of the dojo; the attacker who wishes to knock you out in one punch is unlikely to shape up in front of you and is more likely to try and sucker punch you. We also know that if someone shapes up in front of us outside of the dojo, they have indicated that they are about to attack! We therefore consider it a bad habit to start drills when the attacker is already in a fighting stance. They should keep their hands down! If they are already shaped up, they have told you an attack is coming and therefore you should already be running away or engaging. How do you fix this? Easy! If your partner shapes up, simply run or engage before they throw!
3. 'The trained fighter' - Most of our training partners have some experience. As a result, when practicing self-defence they will throw strikes with good technique. Since they also know what you are about to do, they will often ‘give the technique’ in more subtle ways such as automatically turning the right way for a lock, positioning their feet the right way or falling where you expect them to fall. But if we think of the common street thug, chances are they have not had proper training (and if they have, defending yourself will be much more difficult!) and are more likely to throw uncontrolled, wild strikes, not have good footwork and not do beautiful break-falls to land exactly where you expect.
This is exactly why I love doing pressure drills and training with resistance with beginners more than I do with advanced students - advanced students will make your techniques look good; beginners will make your techniques work for real. This is also a lesson for advanced students – working with beginners, especially in self-defence, is often the best kind of training you can do.
A good way of getting around this is by running different drills with your partners, such as sparring against a skilled opponent, sparring against wild swings, etc., where you partner purposely uses ‘bad’ technique.
4. ‘The “I’m so sorry!”’ – a reality of martial arts training, just as it is for self defence, is that you have to become comfortable with two realities. The first is that you are going to get hit; the second is that you are going to have to hit someone else. These two issues result in two things happening in training. The first is that the attackers purposely aim to miss (and then leave out their arm outstretched, etc.). There is no way to say it other than you should always, ALWAYS train for contact. That doesn’t mean hard contact for every attack in every session, but if you are training to miss you are learning bad habits and giving your partner false confidence. The second is the defender doing the exact same thing. Then when either actually makes contact, they always apologise. Again, nothing wrong with wanting to preserve you training partner, and contact should be gauged based on the level of experience, etc., but part of martial arts and self defence training is contact, and you should get comfortable with it. Always aim for the target!
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but only a few ideas to help you improve your training!
Stay tuned, stay safe,