Guidelines for Functional Training

20 Nov

There are a lot of ways to phrase it. Compliant vs. contested? “Alive” vs. “dead”? It certainly is NOT just “traditional” vs. ”modern.” It’s much more subtle and complicated than that.


I will repeat myself, as I have many times. It is not WHAT you practice. It is HOW you practice. I don’t care if you are doing Taiji or Muay Thai, you begin by learning individual techniques. You learn first by observing them. Then you learn them for what should be a LIMITED TIME in isolation in the air. To be sure, most so called traditional martial arts spend far too much time on what should be a brief introductory period.


But I think where the real problems begin is with the next stage, DRILLING. If you are in Chinese martial arts for example, we see things like push hands and “sticking hands.” My issue has never been with drilling, it has been with HOW people approach their drilling; without context, without connection and without progression.


For those that will rattle of a list of famous traditional fighers from the past, you are already missing my point. It was certainly true that traditional martial arts systems produced an elite few who were the great fighters of their time. However, not only were these individuals a select few, they usually also had to devote their lives to practice. Today, we want a modern martial art that can benefit the majority, not the minority. That is why these guidelines have been established for training.


After an initial period in which the basic techniques are introduced in isolation, they will be drilled using the following LIVE training principles. If training follows these guidelines, you will be able to discover which techniques are both practical and functional, and a majority of the student body will see appreciable benefits in a reasonable amount of time.


Guideline #1: “Structure”
The foundation of the program is learning the proper position and the proper execution of the techniques. Most of the problems students have in applying technique are found in the incorrect execution; the wrong position, the wrong distance, the wrong angle, etc.

Guideline #2: “Movement”
Since an adversary will not stand in one place during a real fight, all the drills must incorporate movement to replicate real conditions. This includes, but is not limited to, footwork, real distance, distance control, level control and head movement.

Guideline #3: “Impact”
While many traditional martial arts place a heavy emphasis on doing techniques without impact, the reality is that hitting an adversary is quite different from hitting the air! Our program includes a significant time devoted to working with various pieces of equipment so the student becomes familiar with the feeling of impact and develops power and focus.

Guideline #4: “Resistance”
Each drill must include or simulate the resistance (or counter attack) of a real opponent.

Guideline #5: “Context”
Each drill must include context; why the technique is being used, when the technique is being used, how the technique is being used, etc. This also includes discussion of our basic theories such as “leaks”, “continuousness”, “gates”, “bridges”, etc.


Drilling has to progress. It has to go somewhere. It should go to sparring! Free sparring in the school is not a competition and there are no winners. There should be NO EGO in free sparring and every student must understand that they are responsible for the safety of their partners. Make free sparring all about improving skills and having fun.


At higher levels, they’ll begin to understand that a good sparring session involves times when both partners are actually cooperative, giving a student the security and opportunity to develop new moves. Light sparring will allow you to work on techniques you have not yet perfected. Constantly sparring with full force will only result in injuries, stagnation and frustration and is counterproductive.


Make sure your training partner knows the plan and the pace of your sparring workout.

Introduce free sparring gradually. Beginning students should engage in no more than three rounds of free sparring per class until they learn to address their fears and adrenaline response. Get comfortable with the idea of getting hit and hitting someone. The earlier you integrate this acceptance, the more progress you will make.

Remember that there are many different free sparring formats designed to develop different skills. In our program we actually use six different formats;

1. Kickboxing sparring with gloves and shin guards
2. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu sparring starting from the knees
3. Pummeling for neck control with knees strikes
4. Pummeling for body control with takedowns
5. San Da sparring (kickboxing with the throws but not ground work)
6. Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) (standing and ground)


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