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Combatives Expert Kelly McCann: Is Your Body “Good to Go” for Optimal Performance of Self-Defense Moves?

Combatives Expert Kelly McCann: Is Your Body “Good to Go” for Optimal Performance of Self-Defense Moves?

“Good to go” is a common military colloquialism indicating readiness. Are you physically good to go for performance of self-defense moves during an unexpected, violent street confrontation? Physical fitness is one of the essential preparedness prerequisites.

What’s considered adequately fit in regard to defending yourself? How can it be quantified? On the no-to-low end of the spectrum, some believe fitness is irrelevant because combative techniques are supposed to incapacitate an attacker so quickly.

“Supposed to,” hmm? That’s a pretty naive perspective.

The results of any techniques are always conditional on the street because of myriad variables that are out of your control. You can’t depend on technique, power and luck always aligning perfectly to achieve a desired outcome; “guaranteed to succeed” is a dangerous appraisal of any technique, tactic or weapon.

Middle-grounders believe fitness is a requirement for effective self-defense moves and achieve their personal concept of it in different ways — from running to weightlifting to cross-training. Although well-intentioned and generally fit, some in this group may find that their conditioning program failed to adequately prepare them for the demanding and specific physical requirements of a snot-slinging fight for their life.


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Those who believe fitness is essential and maintain extraordinary levels of it are generally conditioning hounds anyway — whether they practice combatives or not. Even in this group, some may miss the mark in achieving the specific fitness level necessary for a nasty physical confrontation in a parking garage.

Attack situations generally require a period of intense physical exertion lasting less than three minutes. There are exceptions, of course — a protracted struggle to prevent a rape in an isolated environment, for example — but street attacks are normally quick, brutal events intended to overwhelm the victim. They tend not to be slow, sustained incidents requiring “long distance” physical endurance. During an attack, you’ll rely primarily on fast-twitch muscles for speed, power and plyometric explosiveness.


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Basically, fast-twitch muscles use your body’s glycogen stores for energy during short periods of intense exertion and will fatigue quickly. Conversely, slow-twitch muscles use fat stores to provide sustained energy throughout prolonged periods of lower-intensity work and fatigue more slowly.

It’s important to understand how attacks occur, as well as how your body will physiologically respond in order to develop task-specific fitness goals. By tweaking your conditioning program, you can effectively and efficiently achieve “street fight” fitness in addition to greater general fitness. I believe street-fight fitness is best achieved through intense anaerobic interval training, but I also believe aerobic endurance training is still a requirement for general fitness.

An easy way to distinguish the two is by measuring your heart rate. It’s helpful to get a heart-rate monitor. They’re inexpensive and take the guesswork out of reaching and maintaining your target rate. Get a model with a large readout so you can attach it somewhere other than your wrist in the event you glove up to hit the heavy bag or spar.

An accurate method for determining your maximum heart rate is to subtract your age from 220. So if you’re 40, it’s 220 – 40 = 180. Low-intensity aerobic work keeps your heart beating at 65 percent of your maximum, or 180 x .65 = 117 beats per minute. In contrast, intense exertion is anaerobic at 85 to 95 percent of your max: 180 x .85 (or .95) = 153 (171) BPM.

An aerobic routine puts you in the zone to burn fat efficiently, is easy to sustain for long periods and can be used on your off days as a recovery workout. An anaerobic routine is much shorter in length, is also beneficial for fat burning (in the hours following your workout), requires more recovery time and is more characteristic of the physical requirements of a brawl.

If you don’t exercise, put the Twinkie down and get off your ass. Confirm your suitability to exercise with your physician, then get after it. If you do train but want to tweak your routine to specifically address overcoming physical failure during self-defense moves in a violent street confrontation, try including either short-duration, high-intensity interval routines or long-duration aerobic activity at least twice a week to balance out your training.

Conditioning Your Body for Self-Defense Moves | Day 1

Combatives workout exercises #1 from Kelly McCann self-defense moves training article.

Conditioning Your Body for Self-Defense Moves | Day 2

Combatives workout exercises #2 from Kelly McCann self-defense moves training article.

Conditioning Your Body for Self-Defense Moves | Day 3

Combatives workout exercises #3 from Kelly McCann self-defense moves training article.

Conditioning Your Body for Self-Defense Moves | Day 4
Rest and recover.

Conditioning Your Body for Self-Defense Moves | Day 5

Combatives workout exercises #4 from Kelly McCann self-defense moves training article.

To maintain my readiness, I train four days a week, using both high-intensity interval and low-intensity endurance routines. I’m satisfied this approach is balanced, avoids overtraining, and ensures full-body fitness and task-specific, street-fight fitness.

By the way, reliance on gross-motor movements in a donnybrook is important. Above 170 BPM, it becomes difficult to perform complex, complicated or intricate-motor movements. By using combative techniques to achieve and maintain your target heart rate during interval training, you enjoy the added benefit of reinforcing your motor memory.

Arduous physical workouts also provide the intangible mental benefit of preparing you to endure pain and discomfort. The commitment necessary to maintain a consistently challenging fitness program develops your determination to prevail and generally “mans you up” — never a bad thing.

The motto of one of the special-operations units I was a member of is a Latin expression that means “prepare for the worst.” Of course, your intention is to succeed, but you should always consider failure and do everything you can in training to maximize any available advantage. Being fit is a clear advantage that you’re always likely to enjoy over “Carl the Crackhead” or “Tim the Tweaker.”

About the Author:
A former officer in the U.S. Marine Corps, Kelly McCann now teaches combatives to civilians and military and law-enforcement personnel. Kelly McCann is the author of the book and DVD series, Combatives for Street Survival: Hard-Core Countermeasures for High-Risk Situations. Kelly McCann serves as president of Crucible, a firm that organizes protective details in all sorts of high-risk environments, provides security support services, and trains military, government and law-enforcement operators to do whatever it takes to survive and complete their mission.

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  1. Combatives Expert Kelly McCann: es su cuerpo “Good to Go” para el rendimiento óptimo de los movimientos de autodefensa? | Taekwondo ,Hapkido,MMA , Kung Fu y otras artes marciales linked to this post on January 7, 2013

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