I can easily see at least three distinct components to building self defence: training, skill set drills and operant conditioning (practice) and they take place in pretty much that order.


Training involves teaching. Training is building a framework, a structure upon which to hang everything else. You cannot teach a person to punch harder if they have no idea how to punch. Show them how to punch and you can teach them to punch harder.

Training is where teaching takes place. Do this, no like this, watch, do, correct, do again – repeat and repeat.

The main purpose, the visible purpose, is building that framework. What may not be seen by the student at first are the underlying principles built into the framework, the engine that makes everything work. These will be mentioned but a person trying to remember if their left foot goes in front really isn’t hearing the fact he is stepping into and using empty space.

Training will always be done and returned to as you improve and learn.

Skill Set Drills:

Skill Set Drills isolate and focus on teaching a specific skill set or principle. Because these drills are so focused on one aspect, one skill set or one principle, they rarely resemble reality or a real self defence situation.

Knowing this fact is important.

Skill Set Drills are something to be done until the skill is acquired or the principle understood and then left, and only returned to when the skill needs sharpening or the principle enhancing.

The reason for this is the fact they are not reality based and if you do them too much they can slip into conditioning your responses.

Now this is where a clear distinction must be made I the purpose of a Skill Set Drill. The purpose of isolating the skill set or principle is so that when that skill set is needed or that principle is to be used then it happens without thinking as part of what you have conditioned.

The skill set, the principle become condition but not the drill.

Overwork the drill and the false construct of the drill (required to teach the skill set or principle) becomes a conditioned response. This leads to false training and often placing controls and restrictions on how you Practice (see next section) so that the drill works as if it was based in reality.

Skill Set training allows you to focus on certain skills and principles so when you return to training you can see how they fit into your framework.

Operant Conditioning:

You have a framework. You have sharpening the skills to make the framework succeed. You have drilled the underlying principles needed to make the frame work succeed. And now they must become what you do.

Operant Conditioning is done in what I refer to now as Practice, not Training. This is my own word play to distinguish what is to be done in each and not to confuse teaching and learning with Operant Conditioning. In Training you teach, in Practice there is no external teaching, the teaching and learning is solely done by success or failure.

If the failures do not become success, then you must return to teaching to correct the framework or return to the Skill Set Drills to sharpen the skills or improve the principles.

I’ve written before on how I approach Operant Conditioning so I will not repeat in this short article.

The progression blurs later as you move from one to the other but the main progression is to train and learn the framework, then drill to gain a skill set or learn a principle, then back to training to integrate the learning from the skill set drills and then on to practice and Operant Conditioning and pressure testing to see if everything works as well as it can without having the true test of reality.

Just some thoughts on an approach to passing on self defence – one approach among many.