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Once Around the Park

By Petar Sardelich

Around three or four years ago, due to some personal frustration surrounding my training, I called my instructor to discuss my association. My training with him is typically in private sessions, occasionally in the company of other contemporaries/friends. On one hand the significant and obvious benefits of individualized training, if one can afford it, is amazing. On the other hand, I’ve also found there are several drawbacks, in this case, the obvious lack of any actual full contact sparring.

So, at the suggestion of my instructor, I began checking out other schools to learn new and alternative ideas, spar with different people, and to find other like-minded training partners (only in terms of focus… too much like-mindedness can diminish other opportunities). I found what you might expect… some were doing more non-sport relevant stuff than others. Some, strangely, weren't even testing the material with contact and non-cooperation.

Not having much success, my friends & I began to step up our training in my garage and a nearby park. Since there is no payment required for training in a park, and on a clear California day, it also presents a nice environment to play around in. As we run into other people who train, regardless of size, style, skill set or level, if they don't present themselves like knuckle draggers (a clinical term), we invite them to come train with us. Of course, we have been encouraging the attendance of other people we’ve met in our travels at other schools and parks.

The result has been a pretty interesting combination of martial artists. There's (in various doses) 'JKD'/Kali folk (Jeet Kune Do and Filipino arts, our root styles), Brazilian Jujitsu players, “traditional” Jujitsu artists, Kendo practitioners, Muay Thai people, judoka, boxers, wrestlers, and what I call 'combative' folk (military, law enforcement officers, 'reality based' combative, people that play with um…projectile weapons). Like punk rock band in concert or driving in downtown Los Angeles, there's no one in charge of the potential chaos.

We're not training for sport. We’re training for uncooperative opponents, in a non-controlled environment. This means we’re preparing for circumstances that will likely be encountered with full resistance, where no ideas are excluded (foul tactics or recruiting assistance for instance), in a time and place we cannot control (terrains, obstacles, impulsively or planned), with and without effective tools…improvised and otherwise. In the wake of this focus and private lessons, it's sometimes hard to find consistent training partners.

We can’t completely train what we intend to without them, really. Some attributes can be trained in their absence. Cardio can. But there’s really no substitute for a resisting “opponent”. Not just simply for the sake of power of course- but, for other perspectives, body sizes and attributes, skill levels, different ways of solving problems- and different ways of creating them.

Sometimes someone in our group will have specific attributes, problems, scenarios, or ideas they want to work on. Someone may ask to work a specific drill. As we're a collective, someone may have learned a drill or idea from a class, friend, or seminar that they want to share and try out.

All of these ideas are put through what might be regarded as a “JKD filter”. As a couple of examples of this, we try to break down the idea. We examine what might go wrong. “How will it work under pressure?” is always asked. We try to determine what other problems it might create. Often, we simply pair up (or double team), run rounds of drills in varying lengths, and one person in that group may ask to run a specific drill or problem for examination.

We always spar. All ranges, sometimes specific ranges, with and without tools, in different environments. Often, we'll spar and take away tools in an effort to improve specific skills, among other things. We switch off doing rounds or specific drills with other training partners at random, regardless of size or skill level. There’s great cooperation in terms of talking about what occurred as we do. When we spar, a good sense of humor seems to help as well.

All of our rounds and drills are done using “progressive resistance” as oft noted by Burton Richardson and others. We pay attention to how much speed and intensity is required to push our partners, while maintaining some safety. Most of us continue to train at more than one place, gleaning one thing or another, and we bring that material back to test and break more things down, integrate new ideas and skills for different ranges and environs.

There’s been a lot of discussion in the park too, about missing the classroom environment. There’s much still to be missed: energy exchange, someone leading, more ideas to be worked on, a “controlled environment”, meeting new people to train with and more. It also has to be said that there’s many places that train with a similar focus. To my knowledge, The Inosanto Academy, Dog Brothers, some FMA schools and others cover the bases we’re concerned with, but they’re not always close, and not everyone always has the funds to be able to train there.

It’s also not to be said that more “sport -focused” schools don’t have something to offer. MMA gyms abound, and of course, there’s tons of relevant stuff to be learned there. In the case of our main focus, though, they often leave out one thing or another that we find relevant…a particular range of combat, integration, use of all tools and other such concerns.

Some years later, we are still doing this on Sundays in the park and elsewhere, two to four times a week. At times there are just two of us, but there’s been as many as fifteen. Despite our frustration with what it takes to maintain consistency with people that have a similar focus, life in general and getting old getting in the way, plus a myriad of general excuses to miss one of our free outdoors sessions…training in the park has been really helpful in terms of increasing our (meager) skills…and saving more than a few bucks on training too.

Recently, I asserted to some friends on a web forum I frequent that the way that we train in the park might be called; "turning ourselves into the most effective mental, emotional, and ‘spiritual’ mental & physical tools possible”. Unfortunately, this means that in order to achieve these goals, we sometimes have to do stuff that isn't very “sexy” or awe inspiring from the average martial artist’s perspective, fights when unplanned, are messy things.

Go online to Meetups.com in order to locate similar groups meeting in parks close to your area.

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