The Three Progressive Zones to develop self defence skills
When we are talking a martial art for self defence then I see three distinct and progressive zones that have to be worked through to develop and condition the skills and responses you need. While these are progressive they should also be repeated.
The three zones are:
1. Learning Zone
2. Conditioning Zone
3. Testing Zone
1. The Learning Zone
I’ve previous call this zone Training but for clarity I am now going to refer to it as the Learning Zone.
In the Learning Zone you have to understand you are trying to learn and grasp something new. Often to do that it is broken down in to smaller parts and even simplified until you begin to learn it. You are trying to digest and take in new facts and see if you have them right. The Learning Zone is where you are taught.
This distinction is very important. At the 2017 Alberta Peace Officer’s convention I taught my knife defence seminar and one officer was not happy with how it was being presented. His views helped me formulate this post. You see what he wanted to do belonged in the Conditioning and Testing Zones and not the Learning Zone.
He wanted everyone to go hard and go just as they would need to go on the street. But that is not how you learn something new. You cannot learn a new aspect of self defence going full out. You can’t learn anything new going full out.
In my knife defence when in the Learning Zone if you want to only work on the entry to make sure you have gotten to the right place – you can. In the Learning Zone if you want to stop just before you put the Aggressor on the ground so your partner can test how secure you have them – you can. In the Learning Zone if you want to separate a specific skill set and just work that – you can.
The other thing that happens in the Learning Zone is teaching. It is in this zone that your coach, teacher, Sensei will provide feedback and corrections and, if necessary, where they make you repeat a certain part of something until you get it right.
The Learning Zone is vital. You need to know how to do things right and here is where you learn to do that. You cannot get the technical details in amongst the chaos of simulating an assault.
Be taught and learn in the Learning Zone.
2. The Conditioning Zone
I used to refer to this part as Practice but again, for clarity, I am changing the terms. The Conditioning Zone is where some of what many call “alive training” is introduced. That is even greater In the next zone.
You move into the Conditioning Zone when you think you have enough intellectual grasp of the learning to bring it into your conditioned responses.
We are out of Learning now and into Operant Conditioning. In Operant Conditioning you do not want to do anything that you do not want to do in real life. In Operant Conditioning you cannot stop part way through to see if you have control. In Operant Conditioning you don’t hand the knife back, you don’t stop until you have stopped the threat, you don’t help the bad guy up, you don’t do anything you don’t want to do in a real situation.
There are numerous approaches on how to accomplish this my approach is to use a number of slow motion drills. Every drill has a flaw and going in slow motion does as well but they are not usually flaws that carry over into full speed and we have the Testing Zone to handle those.
I use slow motion for the following reasons:
• It gives you time to choose to use your new learning.
• It allows you time to problem solving.
• It allows you to use any move because going slowing protects your partner.
• It allows you to do every move fully – i.e. you can drive your elbow through your partner’s head in slow motion without damaging them.
Some of the drill we use give a little kick juice (adrenaline) therefore I call this Soft Adrenaline Work. Having a little adrenaline helps you condition the responses.
In this zone NO TEACHING TAKES PLACE – NONE. It is important for operant conditioning that you allow the student to remain in a particular mind set. Teaching takes them into the intellectual, instead here we want them have an experiential learning where if it worked that felt great – do that again and if it didn’t work that felt horrible – don’t do that again.
If they continue to fail then you shift back out of the Conditioning Zone back to the Learning Zone because they had not learned the material well enough to condition it.
3. Testing Zone
The Testing Zone comes in when we think we have conditioned the responses we want but now we have to see if that conditioning will come out at speed, against resistance and in as much chaos as we can fake.
I call this Hard Adrenaline Work because it usually kicks in more adrenaline than the slow work.
Once again you do not do anything you would not do in the street EXCEPT for whatever safety flaw you have put in place so partners are not constantly sent to the emergency or the morgue.
I like to progress this in stages from the Conditioning Zone rather than just leaping all the way to testing. I have partners increase resistance and we increase the speed until we have shifted out of the Conditioning Zone into the Testing Zone. Once they have done some Testing work you can introduce drills taking them right into testing without a build up.
Again, should there be constant failure then a move back to either the Conditioning Zone or to the Learning Zone is needed. If they fully understand they have to rotate to get out of the way of the blade and how that is done then it is back to the Conditioning Zone. If they don’t know what they are doing wrong or should be doing then it is back to the Learning Zone.
The three zones teach the student what to do, they make it a conditioned response and then the test to see if the learning and conditioning are actually there when the student needs it. Or at least as much as we can in a safe place to train dangerous things.
Often once a student learns something they tend to stay in the Testing Zone but remember nothing new is often learned there so constantly go back to the Conditioning Zone to find if you can see something new and then take that back to the Learning Zone or if you see something new then start it all over again through the three progressive zones.