After thirty years dabbling in martial disciplines and combat sports and twenty in serious professional arrest-and-control and combatives training, and somewhere in between teaching both, I’ve formed a few opinions on training methods.

More a proponent of training methodologies than particular styles, I have come to the belief that the most applicable systems – whether martial disciplines or self defense combatives – engage in a common training path that includes Preparation, Simulation, and Application (P-S-A).

It should be familiar: combat sports and other competitive outlets follow this methodology. Students prepare for the desired end state (skill in contest) by technical drilling;  then simulate the contests through “live” training (a la Judo randori, jiujitsu “rolling,” sparring, shooting timed and scored drills against self and others, etc.); and then apply the learning gained in actual competitions.


Their preparation and simulation are predicated on the circumstances in which they will be applied. It makes sense, then, that the pathway to achieve optimal performance goals in a survival or tactical encounter is similar, of course toward a different end and with different variables.

This demands a different kind of simulation, which is of greater importance the more consequential the situation and decision making becomes.




Technical drilling. Skill development, physical development, weapons skills and manipulations….

Learning that shoulder throw. That triangle choke. Striking and combos and linked ground fighting movements making that triangle choke into an armbar when you just can’t finish the triangle.

Verbal interaction with an unknown threat. The same with a known threat. Taking a suspect into custody. Taking a suspect thought to be armed into custody…

Clearing a room? How to hold your weapon, where to put it, where to point it and when… how to negotiate the door, clear your corners. Underneath and behind and above and inside things and places that can hide people.

These are all accomplished through drilling the procedures, patterns of action, the “way” to do things,  until we get the “knack” for them.

This is what some traditions call kata. Yes, kata. So much more than “Chinese dance-fighting,” virtually everything we do in combative practice is kata based.  Whether I am drawing a sword to engage a target or swing through the air with a perfect cut, then holding posture and awareness and then returning the sword to its scabbard; Or drawing a pistol, engaging a target with live rounds or dry-firing in the air, then following through, checking my six and re-holstering, I am doing kata.

There are kata for “real world” and kata for training – and they are sometimes not the same. Try breaking standard range protocols next time you are at a public range and see how everyone immediately recognizes what you did as being not the accepted “kata” of range behavior.

Unfortunately this is where most practice stays: techniques, procedures, patterns – and the discussions tend to revolve around minutiae of technique and all the gear, gadgets and gizmos that support techniques and procedure.

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But simulation is the critical bridge between Preparation and Application. Simulation is the next layer in testing Preparation.

We won’t touch the age-old debate of “kata vs. sparring,” which is as tired and misconceived as that of “street vs. sport.” The answer, in my personal opinion is that it is both:  Preparation AND Simulation.

Lacking one or the other is like a cart with one wheel. Our training needs to get us somewhere during an actual encounter, and with only one wheel we won’t get very far.

Sparring is of course a kind of simulation. It is proving the principles of one’s practice under pressure: in the case of sparring, mainly for sports competition. The pressure faced is the opposing will of a viable opponent.

Comprehensive tactical simulation goes beyond sparring, and it’s where we should begin self defense and tactical preparation. That is, in simulations that add decision making beyond that of the opposing will and skill of the opponent. It must include decision making addressing asymmetries (ambush attack, armed vs. unarmed, two vs. one, gun vs. knife…), tactical interaction – what I call Threat Assessment and Communication -Situational Awareness, a term which includes managing jeopardy, understanding legal and ethical factors and liabilities based on circumstances, force articulation and justification, and whether to even use force at all.

If I have seen anything lacking in the greater self defense and martial arts community it is the serious lack of Simulations training that goes beyond the Preparation phase and just defaulting to some variant of sparring that does not include these things noted above.

There is a place for “sparring,”  but it only scratches the surface.



Application is the proving ground for…well, everything.

For most people this stage is rare or non-existent. Or, the totality of their application time is actually spent in contest encounters, which as outlined above is a very different thing than a defensive encounter.

When there is no need to be concerned about managing jeopardy, or legal standing in using force based on facts and circumstances, and no hesitation about whether it is going to be a physical encounter, or whether one can make the first move, or bystanders or witnesses and what they might do or say or what the police will do when they arrive, all things which breed concern, hesitation, and fear in people not used to handling the cognitive and emotional burdens they present, it is a paradigm shift from a one-on-one, controlled environment, unambiguous encounter.

Unfortunately it means little opportunity to put ones’ notions, let alone tactics and techniques, to the test in open-ended, asymmetric situations.

Here we can readily identify where so much defensive tactics “reality based” training and professional CQC training, never mind the classic “battle” traditions, fall short: there is little realistic simulation, and little or no application as a proving ground.

These things can have serious consequences when things matter most. And judging against a very small sample of a few applications rarely gives a comprehensive understanding.

Only through ongoing, progressive training in a comprehensive P-S-A manner are martial systems, including implied belief systems within martial systems, tried, tested, and proven.Endless preparation without simulation, and without consistent application, retards the development of tactical maturity, especially under pressure.


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