The reality-based training mindset

Written by Paul Cale

‘Reality-based training’ might be all the rage, but how often does it reflect the actual dangers in trainees’ day-to-day lives?

Is your training geared toward your reality, or someone’s military fantasy?

It’s common to read in magazines or to hear at seminars comments like, ‘That technique won’t work in reality’ or ‘That won’t work on the street’, and so on. But the fact is, just about anything can work in reality if the work was done right in training.

First of all, no matter what we train for, we need to understand our objective or ‘end state’. What conditioned behaviour do we want to exhibit when fight triggers are set? What response do we want to have to a given stimulus? What uncomfortable environments do we want to expose trainees to so they unconsciously exhibit a state of readiness when they enter those environments ‘for real’?

As a professional commando in the Australian Special Forces, my job is to prepare for combat in any environment. This is not a throwaway line; it takes day-to-day training, week in and week out, year after year. I must train so that no matter what I am faced with, I will react in an appropriate manner to the presented threat. Most people will never face the reality of war — in fact, for many the thought of war is so removed from their reality that it’s hard for them to even imagine.

So what is real? My ‘real’ is so unreal for most that it is unrealistic to even prepare for it. And why bother, unless you are joining the Army? ‘Reality training’ is too broad a term if you have not defined what reality you’re training for.

Secondly, who is the person training you? What experience do they have in regards to the ‘reality’ that you want — or rather, need — to learn about? A lot of people are training for some fight that they have never had and are unlikely ever to have (and often, the instructor training them has never had that fight either). The one common reality that has motivated people to train in all types of martial arts for millennia, is simply fear. Fear is the motivation for the training but, ironically, it is often a fear of the unknown.

There is an old saying, ‘there is nothing to fear but fear itself’. By letting fear consume your thoughts and drive your actions, you have, in a sense, already lost the battle before you’ve even fought one physically.

Don’t train out of fear because fear will corrupt your reality of the world. Do a martial art that is fun and challenging, with people who are enjoyable to be around and who have a quiet self-confidence because they are not consumed by fear. If you like playing your martial sport, then play it; if you like to study history via old martial arts, then study them. Do whatever you want in martial arts, with one exception: do nothing out of fear. Stop and check your motivation for what you are about to do and if fear comes to mind, think again.

That isn’t to say you shouldn’t want or expect your training to give you practical self-defence skills, but it should be relevant to you and your life. Furthermore, it should address any fears you have, not exacerbate them. Some purveyors of ‘reality training’ trade off irrational levels of fear, perpetuating the paranoia generated by sensationalist news reporting, which would have you believe ruthless attackers are taking over the streets. Of course, attacks do happen, and it would be foolish to join the ‘it’ll-never-happen-to-me’ club, but you must ask the question: are your fears grounded in your reality?

For those who take up training to prepare for dealing with likely/actual threats, yet a mindset of fear remains (or, worse, increases), they should perhaps recognise that:

A)    The training is ‘unreal’ — meaning either dubious in its effectiveness or pushing an extreme perspective on ‘real-world’ violence, and therefore neither boosting confidence nor reducing fear; OR

B)    The problem is in the mind, rather than with the training.

So, before you embark on a ‘reality training’ mission, ensure your grasp of reality is sound.

Read more advice from martial arts masters.