I recently had the opportunity to attend the two day CrossFit Defense Trainer Course with Coach Tony Blauer and members of his European instructor team.
This, like the other CrossFit subject matter courses, is designed to allow CrossFit coaches and athletes to better integrate the subject into classes and workouts (WODs) in their respective boxes (gyms) through expert tuition and guidance based on the CrossFit methodology of constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity. Where this course differs is that it might not be immediately apparent where the subject fits in with an everyday CrossFit class. The CrossFit Endurance, Mobility and Gymnastics courses, for example, are bread and butter CrossFit topics and ones that we perform every day, but I was intrigued as to how Coach Blauer would fit self-defence in to this framework.
Coming in to the course I was wearing multiple hats – an existing self defence instructor, a CrossFit trainer and gym owner and as a student of Coach Blauer’s PDR/S.P.E.A.R. methodology and it was interesting to reconcile them all through the course of the two days.
There has been some derision in the self-defence world as to the usefulness of a one and two day seminar in preparing people to defend themselves and react appropriately in a crisis, especially one from the CrossFit community, one not traditionally associated with self defence. For many, this is considered a lifetime journey, requiring hours of training and discipline to master. Coach Blauer, on the other hand, maintains that you CAN teach someone to adequately defend themselves with minimal time spent in learning. Indeed, one of his oft repeated quotes sums this up nicely “”.
Throughout the course Coach Blauer makes the distinction between traditional martial arts (Karate, Judo etc.), sport fighting (MMA, UFC) and real world self defence. The first two require countless hours of dedication to master, the third is down and dirty and without rules. The instructor team make no secret of the fact that if a trained mixed martial artist challenged them to a fight they would probably lose, but that’s the whole point they are trying to convey – sport fighting is not self-defence: rather it is a consensual trial governed by rules, where each combatant understands the do’s and don’ts and both are prepared and ready for the contest. Self-defence on the other hand is fast, brutal and often comes with little to no warning (however Coach Blauer would contest the opposite – there are always signals, we just either miss them or choose to ignore them).
CrossFit Defense is based upon Blauer’s S.P.E.A.R. system, which stands for Spontaneous Protection Enabling Accelerated Response. This system is taught to law enforcement and military organisations around the world and also encompasses the civilian sector through the Personal Defense Readiness (P.D.R.) courses. The S.P.E.A.R. system uses the human body’s natural startle/flinch response to danger and converts this in to an effective defence against attack. This works without conscious thought and uses gross motor skills. It is the fastest we can respond, long before any learned skills can be brought in to play and is purely instinctive. Need an example of this working? Think about a time when you were walking along and a car backfired behind you, or how about simply walking out of the door in the dark and feeling a spider’s web brush your face. What did you do? Did you do any fancy moves? A spinning back fist perhaps? Judo roll? Nope, you flinched and quickly brought your hands up to protect your face. This is the startle/flinch response Coach Blauer talks about and you know what? It’s damned effective.
Drills were shown that used the typical CrossFit cues and exercise references that helped the athletes convert that response in to a meaningful reaction and then putting those cues into a workout that stress tests the participants. It was interesting to watch people with no prior combatives experience beating the heck out of medicine balls with a ferocity that would dismay all but the most determined of attackers. Elbow and knee strikes were taught in such a way that anyone could use them effectively; one particular drill showed just how much even the worst elbow strike will hurt if you contact in the right area bringing confidence to those who previously thought they wouldn’t be able to hurt anyone sufficiently to escape a situation.
And this is where the true genius of the CrossFit Defense course comes in – Coach Blauer and his team understand that the real battle in any self defence scenario is in the mind of the attacked. The bad guy will usually start his attack from a position of superiority, often with a large dose of surprise thrown in. The attacker is looking to get in and out as fast as possible with minimal chance of personal injury or being apprehended and with maximal chance of success. Through conversion of the startle/flinch in to an effective response the attacked will weather the initial storm and have the mental capability to deal with it, giving him/her the best chance to escape. The instruction team kept reiterating – it’s not a fight, it’s an ambush. Your job is to simply survive and escape.
More time was spent on the psychology of self defence and understanding fear and fear management than the physical aspects. As I will often be heard to say to my self defence class – the best way to win a fight? Not be in it in the first place. Often instructors spend too much time on the events post-bang – reacting to an attack or specific hold, when in fact it would be far more useful to teach our students how to avoid the situation in the first place. The CrossFit Defense seminar lists the three D’s of self- defence – the attack to avoid it, the situation to de-escalate and finally, if all else has failed, ourselves to survive. There is a great emphasis on the first two D’s. If you can spot a situation early enough you can avoid it entirely – maybe just by leaving or changing your behaviour. Bad guy is already in your face? Defuse the situation using non-violent posture and choice speech. Succeed in either of these phases and the need for the Defend part goes away. If the worst still happens, the course helps you build the psychological tools to survive long enough to fight back and escape.
The is a framework used by Blauer tactical Systems (BTS) to explain how the mind processes events and is a really simple model that dovetails nicely with explanations of the freeze/glitch response that Sgt. Rory Miller describes. As a self defence instructor this is one of those areas where I totally geek out. Understanding the mind of the attacker and the reactions of the attacked is, for me, the most important part of any self defence instruction. It’s about teaching people they CAN do something in the face of an assault. It’s about teaching people that a response doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be fast, hard and most importantly of all, instinctive – most attackers will not expect you to put up a fight and are expecting you to comply without question, and when their plan goes pear shape they are likely to flee, fearing capture or injury.
What was most interesting from the point of view of a CrossFit coach was seeing how the Cycle of Behaviour applies to athletic performance. The same thought processes can be seen in an athlete about to attempt a Fran or a single rep max snatch attempt. In fact it’s actually been quite enlightening in applying the basics to engender better performance in CrossFit class; coaching athletes through the FEAR loop to a mental state where they visualise success rather than expect failure.
So, can you effectively learn to defend yourself in a one or two day course? The answer has to be a solid yes – IF you are learning the correct things. This course prepares the average person to deal with a situation and to effectively deal with it as it happens. The simple truth is, you don’t need a myriad of moves with the requisite coloured belt to prove mastery to be confident in your ability to defend yourself. You need determination and drive; you need the belief that you can defend yourself no matter what, and truthfully, if you won’t defend yourself, then who will?
Update: The CrossFit Defense course has been renamed CrossFit SPEAR since the author participated.