What the Heck Do Training Sessions “Look Like”?

We’ve been asked what training sessions and “sparring” looks like (specifically, what the heck do we do/how “hard” do we train etc), so will try to share some of that info here.

Sessions are scheduled for two hours, but can go a little more or less, depending. Watchwords for all of our training have to do with “aliveness” – an idea created and fleshed out by Matt Thornton from the Straight Blast Gym (here is a relevant video about the idea: Aliveness, as Taught by Matt Thornton), non-cooperation, and “progressive resistance” (a term I associate with Burton Richardson- a blog of his about it here: http://jkdunlimited.c…).

Will start by generalizing what we “do”. First we meet and warm up/stretch however one likes. Occasionally people do “PT” (physical training- crunches, burpees, squats, pushups, etc), some shadow box with and without tools, and more. With the above principles in mind, our training sessions (as a rule) are about breaking up in to pairs, and doing 1-5 minute rounds (depending on what we’re working on), and as much as possible, with a 30 second to 1 minute break between rounds for water, gear changes, review, chatting, etc. Each round starts with what we like to call “dealer’s choice”- meaning each person in the pair gets to decide on what gets worked on. These can be drills (preferably functional), attribute training, and/or sparring, with and without tools (what we call weapons). If someone would like to learn something, the rounds can be taken to work on something new. After the round is over, the other partner gets to work on what they’d like to, then we try to switch partners, and again work through the same process of each person getting a choice. This way, we train with different sizes, skills, and “types” of “opponents”.

These “rounds” more specifically can be, but certainly are not limited to:

One person on offense only, the other defense, just hand tools (punches). This could also be kicks. Could also be knees and elbows. Could also be both of offense… you get the picture.

Focus-mitt drills for developing attributes.


Stick or knife drills.

Ground fighting. There are more drills and ideas to work on here than likely any other range of combat, and fleshing these out are beyond the scope of this list.

“Pre-fight” material- managing unknown contacts, reading “hustles” or “tells”, situational awareness drills, etc.

Clinch range work.

Takedowns/takedown defense.


Working from inferior or superior positions in the clinch, or on the ground.

Wall drills.

Unequal initiative, unequal armament, or both.

Default cover, and related drills.


Escapes/evasions for standup, clinch, and ground.

Tool access, fouling access, standup, clinch, ground.

Sparring, with/without tools, specific ranges, all ranges.

Many of these can be done with more than one opponent.

There’s MANY more types and more “evolutions” of ideas, but you get the picture. When it concerns all of the above, specifically sparring, we have encouragements/guidelines, but they’re worn like a loose coat. Again, we strive for alivenessnon-cooperation, and progressive resistance as principles. This is the part where we’ll share some specifics about doing drills and sparring.

We want for there to be motion, some non-cooperation/resistancetimingenergygeneralshipsituational awareness, whether sparring or doing drills. As for levels of contact, that is agreed upon by both training partners (or more if there’s 2 or 3 on 1 ideas being worked on), using some of the ideas above. If it is about “sparring”, one might choose to just do hand tools (punches), high-line attacks, at 50% speed and power for instance, because that is the type, and level of contact that they feel comfortable with and/or challenged by.Everyone responsible for themselves, each person gets to decide on the level and types of contact, for each round/interaction. In a more detailed way, we’re talking about working a specific part of fighting (to all of it), and we also agree on speed, and power levels, which are different components.

Specific examples: If we agree to do just hand tools, don’t throw a kick! If we agree on just clinch range with no ground fighting or takedowns, don’t do a takedown! If we’re only working stick or knife, don’t add kickboxing tools (unless we agree on that too). If we agree to just go 30-50% speed and power because maybe we’re working on a new skill or something, try to maintain that. However, if we agree that “anything goes” at 75-90% speed and power, even taking someone down and producing a training knife (for instance) is fair game! We strive to not go above something like 90% speed and power to insure safety, consideration, maintaining integrity of the community… but also so that we are maintaining as honest an application of principles in the spirit of alivenessnon-cooperation, and progressive resistance.

It might serve too that we make specific mention of our physicality to begin with. If we’re training injured, let your partner know so that we can be considerate of the injury. If we don’t feel up to going 75-90ish% speed and power, ask that we go with what’s comfortable. It’s also a good way to get encouragement/support, among other things.

Of course, this is all better done/explained in person. Hopefully this gives some sense of our efforts and focus.

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