How to Add More Realism to Self-Defense Training – Resistive Attackers

In Can-ryu Jiu-jitsu, we train how to defend against a wide range of specific attack scenarios including wrist grabs, head locks, throat grabs, bear hugs, wild haymakers, ground holds, weapon attacks and more. When students are just starting out, the attacks are more or less static and non-adaptive with training partners being fairly compliant. We start off with very low levels of resistance to give students the chance to work on form and technique without being under so much pressure that they fall apart. Below is an example of a self-defense situation response performed in a demonstrative, low-resistance format from Steve Hiscoe Shihan’s YouTube channel (he’s one of the heads of our style).

As you can see in the video, the attacker is very compliant, offering very little resistance, and this is the way students should start out when they’re still building their foundation skills. Lower levels of resistance also make it easier to break down a defensive technique so students can better understand how to do it, as well as the mechnanics that make it work.

As students become more proficient with their technique and more well-versed in a variety of strikes and takedowns, in our dojo, we encourage students to start taking more liberties as attackers to increase the resistance and realism of the attacks, while still maintaining a relatively controlled environment. After all, we can’t expect a real attacker to respond exactly the way we rehearse, nor can we expect them to necessarily commit themselves to a single attack. Real attackers are likely to resist, defend and adapt unless you catch them completely off-guard.

In the case of the above attack, where the uke grabs with one hand on each wrist, the attacker is likely to grab with the intent of dragging the victim some place against their will. To make the attack more real for a more experienced practitioner, the uke can try to pull the defender out of their base, which puts their defensive stance to the test. Once the grip has been broken by smashing the wrists together, the defender moves in to attack with open palm strikes to the nose. Of course, there is always a chance that a real attacker will reflexively throw their hands up to block the incoming attack. This is another element an uke can add when training with a more experienced partner. The defender should be ready to follow up with another attack to an area that is open like the solar plexus.

Takedowns can also be finicky to apply on a real attacker that compensates and stumbles in unpredictable or defensive ways. Let’s say that the attacker steps back to keep from falling down as the defender moves in for the ankle knee (or knee-ankle as we usually call it at our dojo) takedown. When a person steps one way, they make themselves open to other takedowns like the outer reaping throw, for example, which the defender can easily flow into should the attacker step out of the first takedown attempt.

Below is a video of me applying the adaptive tactics I’ve explained above with moderate resistance to give you an example of how these types of scenarios can be trained with controlled resistance.

This is just one example of controlled resistance training. It can be broken down as much as necessary for less experienced students, adding only one type of resistance per exchange. The resistance can also be increased further for higher level students, like adding secondary attacks like a haymaker punch once the grip is broken, for example, or by using more speed, strength or intensity to the resistance. Of course, the more resistance you use, the greater the chance of accidents or injuries, so it should only be increased gradually at the individual’s comfort level as they become more experienced.

This is not the same as live training like sparring or grappling. Live training is an important element to introduce as it can serve to further refine your reflexes and reactions. That being said, live training tends to be practised with other experienced martial artists and the average attacker on the street doesn’t move the same way as a trained boxer or submission grappler. There are numerous stories of trained martial artists being caught off guard by the random flailing attacks that an inexperienced fighter can produce while intoxicated and/or enraged. The type of training above is more designed to emulate these more common, less trained, “average joe” attackers.

Do you have any examples of how students train against resistant attackers in your martial arts school? Please feel free to share in the comments. 🙂

Comments (6)

6 thoughts on “How to Add More Realism to Self-Defense Training – Resistive Attackers

  1. I’m not quite sure why you’d want to release your wrists that way since you yourself noted this leaves him free to start punching. In our style we regard grabs and the like as a gift since he basically gave one or both of his weapons to you. The last thing I’d want to do is give them back and create space. To each his own of course, luckily there’s a wide variety in techniques and approaches in JJ and the martial arts in general.

    Against wide, flailing attacks I’d advise to just cover up, move in and either demolish him or take him down for a control. A great way to train this is to outfit the attacker with a helm and other protection and just him let come at you however he wants: since he’s protected he doesn’t need to worry about being hit so that’s about as close to an average brawl as you’ll get in training.

    In our dojo more advanced training would indeed consist of more pressure and more leeway for the attacker: in any case it doesn’t matter what you do exactly as long as you keep the momentum going and him on his toes. One of the easiest follow-ups to any technique gone bad is simply a basic boxing combo followed by some type of clinch or a kick if he moves out of reach.

    Your follow-up was quite good, you do produce alot of sound for such a little lady (lol).


    1. We do a variety of variations for the same attack, but this is the first basic we teach. When the attacker is actually grabbing and pulling, they are usually putting their weight and force into the pull, so when you break the grip like this their weight pitches back. If you’re in law enforcement if gives you the opportunity to step back and go for one of your weapons. If you’re a civilian and you follow up with the strikes as they stumble back, when well executed that along with their momentum can cause the to fall over backward without the need to take them down.

      That being said, there may be cases in which you do what to keep them controlled, whether you’re locking or striking, and we do teach these as variations. The basic techniques we teach are designed to be super easy to learn (within 3 min or less) so that they are more usable in a shorter period of time.

      Thanks for sharing your training experiences! 🙂

    2. Zara,

      Just so you know, in regards to her volume, I had to bring the volume levels down in Final Cut Pro because she came across distorted.

      Woman in video is louder than she appears. 😛

  2. You might want to pick up a book called “Meditations On Violence” by Rory Miller. (He’s also got a book of drills that I haven’t yet read, but plan to.)

    Mr. Miller is a former corrections officer (jail guard) from the US who now travels teaching people how to deal with violent situations. Meditations On Violence talks a lot about the disconnects between typical martial arts training and what one really needs to be ready for. I picked up some good ideas from him, including the “Aha!” moment that got me over my fear of dojo sparring.

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