What Is "Reality Based Fighting?"


Reality Based Training is a common catch phrase in martial arts these days. In fact it seems to be the martial arts fad of the twenty first century just as Ninjitsu was in the eighties and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu was in the nineties.

There is nothing wrong with this, fads are great for the martial arts, it gets people interested in joining a local club and increases enrolment for the people who teach the latest flavour of the decade.  This increase in interest is great for the reputable martial arts instructor who is offering legitimate instruction.

There is a down side to fads in the martial arts, unfortunately.   During the heyday of ninjitsu many people who were teaching Karate or Jiu Jitsu one week were instant ninjas the next. When the Gracie family popularized BJJ in the nineties there were a lot of clubs hanging a BJJ sign above their dojo doors. Some were legitimate, many were con artists.

The only way for the serious martial artist to avoid being conned was to question the lineage of the instructors. All BJJ can trace their lineage back to the Gracie family just as all Ninjitsu should be able to trace their lineage back to the Iga or Koga region of Japan and arguably the Fajita or Hatsumi families.

Unfortunately there is no lineage for reality based fighting. You can't simply check out an instructor’s background and see if he comes from a legitimate reality based system. To add to this confusion many martial arts instructors feel that what they are teaching is indeed reality based, whether they are teaching sport jiu jitsu or Karate. They are not trying to misrepresent themselves they simply do not know what makes true reality based training.

To figure out a guideline for what "reality based training" is I went to one of Canada's best sources, Guro Ed Wong of Urban Survival Systems in Vancouver BC. For him there are some core ingredients that make his training reality based. Some of these ingredients are unique to the Urban Survival Systems, but they will give the reader a good idea of what to look for in a fighting system if you want your training to be "reality based".

For anyone who has not heard of Ed Wong, let me give you some background on him.  Ed has spent all of his adult life researching combat arts to find the most effective fighting skills he can pass on to his students.  He has been teaching reality based fighting for over fifteen years.  His research has led him to train in arts from virtually every corner of the globe.  Filipino, Russian, Chinese, Thai and Israeli martial arts are all part of the USS mix.  This art is under a continuous process of growth and change; it is an evolving entity.  

Teachers such as Sifu Jesse Glover, Coach Vadim Slavin and Guro Louie Lindo are the main influences on Guro Ed.  However you will not learn pure Ikatan Kali, Non Classical Gung Fu or Sambo from Ed.  What you will learn is pure distilled fighting concepts that come from these main sources and many different minor influences.  What sets USS apart from these source arts and other traditional fighting systems is what makes it pure reality based training. 

One of the most important ingredients to reality based training is scenario based stress inoculation according to Guro Wong; "Your brain is a big filing cabinet and every time you train you create a file for future reference when you need it next. If you have never trained stress drills where dialogue is used, foul language is present and attacks on the mind are present, and then on the street you are in for a rude awakening-as you will be creating that file on the spot. This can lead to you being beaten or being reactive (instead of pro active). If you’re not in control (of your emotions), than (the fight will be) out of control.”

ust as a fireman trains to fight fire, we to must train how most street altercation start. Before you spar add some dialogue so you learn not to be intimidated by an aggressor’s verbal abusiveness. By doing this you will learn how to manage the stress of verbal confrontation. Once it’s in control you can start to use adrenaline as fuel for fighting, as oppose to something that can hinder you."

This type of psychological training has been used by law enforcement and security personal for decades.  This is one of the most important ways for students to prepare for the reality of violence.  By role playing various scenarios a student becomes acclimated to prefight aggression and posturing.  This will help you survive a real situation as you will act instead of freezing up during the pre fight phase of an engagement. 

Controlled aggression according to Ed is another important training key for the street. "Most fights are lost due to not lack of technique and skill, but of lacklustre resolve to finish the enemy".

"When confronted with violence and the option of "avoidance and awareness" are exhausted, ruthlessness and aggression are the key to winning or surviving a street assault.  You always want to start off with the highest level of force and dwindle down, as oppose to starting with the lowest force. If you start off with light attacks you could be (giving your enemy the advantage, as he is not going to be taking it easy on you).  Going forward with the highest level of aggression ensures you get the enemy to react so he follows your every step putting him behind the power curve". 

"Please note controlled aggression is not being reckless. Being reckless just leaves opening for your enemy and side tracks you mentally."

What Guro Wong is saying is that the key is to act and make your enemy react. This is where many systems fail, in that they rely on you reacting to an enemy’s aggression instead of initiating and making him react to you. If you wait for an attacker to act while you react you will be "behind the eight ball". While you are mentally and physically trying to catch up, your enemy will be overwhelming you with a tidal wave of violence. He will not be probing you with half ass feints and light jabs to get your fighting measure, that is sport fighting. On the street it is more likely to be pure focussed aggression. You should be the wave, not the boat that is about to be swamped!

Hitting targets, such as Thai pads and focus mitts full power with a high heart rate is also very important for reality based training.  A high heart rate and breathlessness simulates the effects of stress. By hitting targets in this state it will be very obvious why most reality based systems use strikes that rely on gross muscle movement and natural instinctive striking patters. Simplicity is the key for survival.

When you are sparring you cannot go full power with a training partner, you have to hold back out of respect and care for your sparring partner.  This is why pad training is so important, because you don’t have to hold back.  You can go full out.  Because of this pad training is arguably a more important training drill then sparring.  In fact many reality based instructors believe that too much sparring leads to bad habits and a "sport mentality" that has no place in reality based training.

As I said, the striking patterns that you practice should be simple and instinctive strike patters.  Watch what people do under stress in real confrontations and improve on what is instinctive.  Instead of training the body to do movements and patterns that are counter intuitive, take what your body does naturally and improve on it through training.  By following instinctive patterns your mind will not become overloaded and freeze up when you need to act. This is very important and something to consider if you are training for the street. Functionality is what separates the martial art from reality based fighting.

Before all you martial artists get mad at this statement keep in mind that you, like me, probably keep a set of techniques that are good for the street and a set that are simply fun to learn. These things we do to keep our training challenging, to give respect to the culture these arts come from and to keep us training for years to come. Some phenomenal martial artists will be able to knock someone out on the street with a flashy tornado kick or take a knife away with a picture perfect knife disarm, but for the average person this type of technique requires far too much coordination and skilful movement to do under stress.

For the street, simple ballistic strike patterns and low kicks are the key. If you are looking for reality based training techniques keep in mind that they should be made for the average Joe to be able to achieve not the martial arts phenomenon.

While Ed Wong's Urban Survival Systems places a lot of focus on instinctive striking it is not just a striking art.  Like any reality based system USS teaches its students to be able to fight in all ranges, striking, clinching and ground fighting are all covered.  It is important that when you are looking into a reality based fighting system that it will give you skills that you will be able to use in whatever fighting environment you may have to defend yourself in.  After all no matter how well trained you are you can never predict what will happen in a fight.

Dirty tactics such as eye gouging, digit breaking and biting are also part of the USS curriculum.  It is important that you embrace an attitude of ruthlessness when you train for the street.  Training to do whatever it takes to survive is what reality based training is all about.  There are no unfair moves on the street. 

Developing a tool user’s attitude is another aspect that should be taught in reality based fighting.  Ed Wong teaches edged weapons, blunt impact, and improvised weapons.  You should be willing to use whatever tool you have at your disposal to help you survive.  Even if you are not willing to carry a knife or other weapon you should know how to use them.  You may disarm an opponent or have to use an improvised weapon in a confrontation.  Remember at the end of the day it is your survival that matters when it comes to reality based training, not some outdated ideal of what is right and wrong in a fight.  

Even if you live in a country or state where the carry of firearms is prohibited the use of firearms should also be taught.  You may manage to take a gun away from an attacker and need to turn it on him or his companions.  Without some rudimentary firearms skill you may not be able to do this. 

However none of these physical skills matter one bit if you do not train the mental skills of awareness and avoidance.  You must learn how to spot danger before it happens.  This is perhaps one of the most important aspects of reality base training.  Guro Wong suggest reading books such as Gavin De Becker's "The gift of fear" and to try thinking like a predator.  Thinking like a predator develops awareness of where and when a predator might strike. 

This along with understanding crime statistics and local culture allows the student to be truly aware of his surroundings when he is out and about.  To facilitate this, a program such as the one Ed offers will also bring guest speakers in from various law enforcement organisations.  This is another ingredient that makes a program reality based and not just another martial arts class.  You need to get your information from professionals otherwise it is just theoretical.  What comes to real violence you need to base your training on what will work not on what might work.

Also using outdated techniques or sporting theory does not really fit in the arena of Street self defence.  Standing stances like a boxer or a karate man just gives away the fact that you are ready to fight.  This also gives your attacker the knowledge that you are a trained fighter. You should be able to defend from positions that are non aggressive and don't look like martial arts stances.  This is one of the reasons Guro Wong stresses using de escalation techniques and a non aggressive stance if you are not sure the confrontation is going to get physical.  Not only does it make you look non aggressive but also it may appease an aggressor and stop the fight before it starts.  However when the time comes to get physical he stresses it is best to act first, act fast and act ruthlessly. 

I hope this helps give the reader a basic guideline of what to look for in reality base fighting.  There is a couple of things I want to stress, if the class you are looking into does not teach simple, aggressive techniques that put you in the driver’s seat in a confrontation then it probably should not claim to be reality base training.  If it does not teach multiple ranges of combat, including the ground, it will definitely not be giving you a good base to help you survive the many variables of combat.  If there is no focus on dirty tactics, weapons use and employing whatever ruthless method necessary to gain the upper hand then that art and that instructor has no right to claim to be teaching reality based techniques.  Remember the old adage of buyer beware, make sure that you do your research and check out any class carefully before you sign a contract and join up.  

Guro Joel Huncar - Huncar Applied Natural Defence Systems

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