The Freeze Syndrome – Neal Martin

The Freeze Syndrome – Neal Martin

(Original article reproduced here with permission)

The other night at training one of peers was taking the class and he had us doing an arm lock in response to a double lapel grab. The technique involved taking control of your opponent’s wrist and then taking the elbow and whipping the arm. If done correctly, the whipping movement will break your opponents arm.
As I was practicing the technique however, it quickly became apparent that the defense had weaknesses and that one could easily counter attack before the lock had been applied. In a live situation, no attacker was going to stand there for the couple of seconds it took to apply the lock; they would likely continue their attack unabated. A lively opponent would not make it easy for you to apply such a technique.
Static Training And The Freeze Syndrome
The situation brought home to me once again the problem with this kind of static training, a problem I have come to label “the freeze syndrome”. It’s a problem shared by most traditional systems and can be summed up thus:

Uke steps forward with a single attack and then effectively freezes while he waits for Tori to apply a defensive technique.
You witness this form of training quite a lot when you see people doing knife defences especially. No one wielding a knife is going to stand still after their first attack, they are going to keep that knife moving all the time, making it extremely difficult to get control of never mind apply a nice lock.
Even in situations with no weapon involved, an attacker would never just stop after the first attack, they would carry on attacking until they had either put you down or you had somehow stopped their attack with your defense. The whole situation would play out very frantically and very messily, not at all like the neat and tidy way most martial artists practice self defense.
What this kind of static training leads to is a false sense of security for students who train in this method. For the average student who takes their training at face value they would naturally be inclined to believe that they could apply techniques in a real situation in just the same way they do in the dojo, that is swiftly and without much trouble. After all, they are martial artists now, they are trained and that’s what they are supposed to be able to do- why else would they be bothering?
However, as anyone with any street experience could tell you, things don’t normally play out that way. Determined attackers are not usually so accommodating as to wait while you apply a technique on them. You won’t be hearing them say, “Okay, I’ll just give you a second or two to get yourself into position there before I continue with my attack…oh damn, you’ve got me in an arm-lock now…god you’re good. I never stood a chance against such skill, did I?”
No, in reality, if an attacker throws a punch, they are going to follow that punch up a split second later with another one and then another one and then maybe they will grab you by the neck and wrestle you down to the ground where they will do the Riverdance over your head. Your whole defensive strategy would be a complete failure.
So am I saying here that static training methods are pointless and don’t really prepare a student for the real thing? In one sense yes, very much so. Static training will not prepare anyone for real combat. The only thing it allows you to do is to learn the mechanics of a technique without feeling any real resistance. Such training is necessary in order to perfect the movements of a technique.
Where most dojos go wrong is failing to take things to the next level and give students the opportunity to test their techniques in a more alive context.
Static training does not teach one how to deal with all the messiness of real combat, the pulling and pushing, the scuffling around, the clinging on and the constant striking. On top of that, there is also the fact that most opponents on the street are full of drink and drugs. Have you ever seen someone on coke having a fight? I have. Someone with a few grams of coke in them becomes anesthetised to pain, which makes them extremely hard to put down. You could probably break their arm and they would carry on fighting regardless.
So under such conditions it would be no less than a miracle if one were able to apply any of the so-called
Where most dojos go wrong is failing to take things to the next level and give students the opportunity to test their techniques in a more alive context.
self defense techniques that most systems teach, let alone escape in anything other than an ambulance.
So what’s the alternative to static training? How does one make their training more realistic?
Well actually, that’s a bit of a rhetorical question. I’ve already disclosed in detail in another article about how to make your training more realistic for self defense purposes.
What I’m really trying to say here is this:
Add in a bit of realism, a bit of pressure to your training and most of your carefully cultivated techniques are rendered completely ineffective, or at least the text book versions (the version you practice in static training) of them are. Some of them you might get away with if you modified them a bit or hit your opponent a good few times before trying to apply them, but on the whole, most self defense techniques are too difficult to apply under duress.
So why even bother with such techniques if they can’t be worked properly in real combat? That’s a question that occasionally plagues me while I’m training, and at such times I have to remind myself of a few things:
1. When it comes to self defense you should have a core system of techniques that you know you can rely on, techniques that work well under pressure. I’m talking about simple techniques that can be applied in most situations without leaving yourself too vulnerable to counter-attack, techniques such as simple strikes, throws, take-downs, chokes, pins, holds etc. As long as this core system is in place and you know the techniques inside out then you should be able to rely on  it to get you out of most scrapes.
2. All other techniques outside of this core system go to make up a support system. They are techniques you can fall back on if need be, though ordinarily you wouldn’t have too, or more likely, you wouldn’t get the chance. If your first defense fails then your number is generally up. You don’t get second chances on the street. Which begs the question, why practice the other techniques at all? Why not just concentrate on the core system and forget about the other techniques? Well…
3. Practicing those other techniques will make you a better martial artist in the long run. Notice I didn’t say a better fighter. The two are different things. We’ve all heard the stories about veteran martial artists falling apart when it comes to real combat, so proficiency in martial arts does not equal proficiency in self defense.
Becoming a better martial artist will help you master your chosen art ansd you will attain all the benefits that come along with that. Mastering all those secondary techniques will also help you in your performance of the primary ones, the real self defense ones. The training itself will serve to make you more formidable and in control of yourself and that will be apparent to any opponent you may face. Your experience and poise will translate into an inner-confidence that will shine through and make any potential opponent that bit more wary of you. To my mind, that’s the real point of all that training, to get to the stage were you can defeat an opponent without lifting a finger. It’s the art of fighting without fighting.
So the next time you are practicing static training methods be aware of the freeze syndrome and realise that you are only learning the mechanics of the technique you are doing. To see if that same technique will work for real you have to try and apply it against an opponent who offers some resistance and isn’t going to freeze after the first attack. If you can still make the technique work in this context then you can safely add it to your core defense system. If you can’t then you should add it to your support system or file it under art.
All your techniques should be ruthlessly evaluated to see what weaknesses they may contain, then you should do your best to eliminate those weaknesses or eliminate the technique altogether if it is unworkable (as a great many self defense techniques are). Weaknesses can’t really be spotted through static training. Only alive training will show up the holes in any given technique.
If you want good self defense, effective self defense, then alive training is the only answer. If you want to keep kidding yourself, then continue with the static training and nothing else but you’re in for a shock if you ever have to do it for real.

Many thanks to Neal for allowing us to reproduce this article. You can read more about Neal in our Featured Instructors section.

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