Monday, September 6, 2010

Training Methods & Combat Effectiveness Pt 1

Renzo Gracie and Royler Gracie (G&G), in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu: Theory and Technique, make the following insightful observation:
Kano was not a great innovator in technique; most of what he knew in terms of technique was taken from old jujutsu schools. His great innovation lay in the way he taught and trained his students in those techniques. (8)
Competitive advantage is a phrase used in business to refer to a situation where one business has some advantage over and outperforms its competitors. Different martial arts, different styles of the same martial art, and different schools of the same martial art are often established because their founders believe they have some competitive/combative advantage over their 'competitors.' According to G&G, and rightly so, Kano's competitive/combative advantage was largely attributable to the use of randori (free exercise or sparring) as the preferred training method in preparing a person for combat:
The idea was for the students to train 'live' with each other, each trying as hard as he could to apply technique on the other. By this means students could become familiar with the feeling of applying technique on a live, resisting human being. This, as you can imagine, is far more difficult than applying technique on a cooperating training partner in some choreographed kata. Such live training develops far greater physical and mental agility and speed in the student and prepares them well for the tiring and unpredictable movements of real combat. In order for randori to be possible, Kano saw that the dangerous elements of jujutsu would have to be removed. One cannot engage in daily sparring sessions with full power strikes, hair pulling, and eye gouging! To prevent unacceptable attrition through injury, Kano removed strikes and 'foul' tactics from randori. (8)
G&G refer to the 'paradox of randori' in that a martial art can be made more combat effective by the removal of 'dangerous' techniques. They suggest that

what Kano realised is that the effectiveness of a martial art is not determined solely by its repertoire of techniques, but also by the training method by which it instills those techniques into the students. ... Kano saw that a fighter who constantly trained at full power on a resisting opponent in live combat with 'safe' techniques would be more combat effective than a fighter who always trained with 'deadly' techniques on a cooperating partner with no power. (9)

The Gracie/Brazilian jiu-jitsu's (BJJ) competitive/combative advantage lies in, according to G&G, their extension and modification of the techniques, training methodology, and strategy of Japanese jujutsu and judo. They suggest 'Kano took out too much of the dangerous elements of fighting and grappling training' (11). These dangerous techniques which were prohibited by Kano in randori, they explain, are
very effective combat techniques. By removing them students lose a good deal of combat effectiveness. Also if they encounter someone who does use them, their lack of familiarity with the techniques will make them very vulnerable. By adding these techniques to randori training the Gracies made their art much more combat effective. Live sparring had much more combative feel to it with the removal of these restrictions on technique. (11)
Firstly, the arguments put forward by G&G reflect what Karl Friday (Legacies of the Sword) refers to as the 300 year old debate over the better training method for preparing a person for combat - kata or sparring and competition. A debate which he suggests, despite G&G and likeminded individuals' arguments, has no prospect of resolution in the near future. Secondly, Kano's reasons for restricting dangerous techniques in randori - reducing the risk of unacceptable attrition through injury - is a valid concern. You can't very well train a person for combat if they are injured all the time. G&G suggest the Gracie's added the dangerous techniques back to randori. So how do they manage the risk of unacceptable attrition through injury? When discussing the BJJ training methods, G&G explain that
a very large percentage of training time in Brazilian jiu-jitsu is taken up with live sparring. ... Because the more extreme elements of a real fight (such as biting, eye gouging, hair pulling, and striking) are removed from training, you can partake in such live sparring on a daily basis without fear of constant injury and damage. (20)
So, they also prohibit certain dangerous techniques. They have to. And for the very same reasons Kano had to. Doesn't G&G's argument concerning the reduction of combat effectiveness when dangerous techniques are prohibited hold for their BJJ as well. Yes! It has to! You cannot fault the logic of G&G. If certain techniques are prohibited in training then the student does not get to train to use nor to defend against these techniques. The argument becomes one of degree. BJJ is more combat effective than judo because less techniques are prohibited in randori. However, certain techniques are still prohibited in BJJ which has the potential of having a negative effect on the combat effectiveness of their students.

What did Kano do about training the dangerous but very effective combat techniques? He trained them in kata where there are no restrictions on the types of techniques which can by trained. What does G&G/BJJ do about the training the dangerous but very effective combat techniques? It would appear they do not train them at all and they advise their students to simply 'adapt':
The resulting familiarity with applying your techniques full power against a person doing everything in his power to defeat you is a great advantage in a real fight. Of course you have to adapt to the obvious differences that will emerge in a real fight. The opponent will probably be trying to punch, kick, scratch, gouge, and bite you. However, the familiarity with active resistance will make the transition relatively easy. (26)
It has to be understood that any and all training methods have their limitations. There are always tradeoffs. Where problems emerge in terms of combat effectiveness is when these limitations and tradeoffs are not understood and/or appreciated. When the focus is purely on the strengths of a particular training method with no mind given to its inherent weaknesses. When the combat imperative is not the sole focus. The danger then becomes that tactics and techniques may be developed and shaped to meet other demands which may not be effective or may pose unacceptable risks in real combat.

The next couple of blogs will focus on martial arts training methods. Next weeks will provide some examples of tactics and techniques which have been developed based on training methods which potentially pose unacceptable risks in real combat. Tactics and techniques which are taught by many martial arts who refer to their focus on combat effectiveness as their point of differentiation and the source of their competitive/combative advantage.


  1. A very interesting post. I always thought that Kano developed judo to be a sport rather than a combat effective martial art. Likewise with BJJ -I always thought that was the competition side of jujitsu. Clearly I am wrong. However, I would not assume anything that was adapted for sport, including sports karate, was going to be combat effective in a real situation, mainly for the reasons that you explain in your post. I have been told that in a real fight you will 'fight as you train'. However, it also has to be remembered that for many people the sole motivation for training is not combat effectiveness, particularly in the budo arts, where mental and spiritual development is just as important as self defence.

  2. Thanks for the comment Sue. When you read the early comments of Kano you'll see he considered it a fighting art. BJJ most definetly conceive of their art as a fighting art. Your comment regarding the different objectives of the budo arts is well taken. In fact, one of the points I'm trying to emphasise is the specific identification and understanding of the objectives of any martial art/way. This then sheds light on the tactics and techniques which the art/way teaches and is a litmus test for such. If self defence is 'the' or 'an' objective, the tactics and techniques should be, nay, must be, subjected to the test of its effectiveness in combat. I don't mean tested under actual combat conditions but common sense testing concerning the potential effectiveness in combat and the risks associated with their use. To not do so is to do a disservice to the students. All will be clearer with next weeks blog. Cheers


Your comments make my work all the more relevant as I use them to direct my research and theorising. Thank you.