“It’s a training issue.”
Every time in the self-defense world that a challenging solution recommended for a problem, or a less than optimal piece of equipment is touted, or we see someone make a mistake in a use of force situation, there are always at least a few people who claim that training is the way to overcome all issues. If only the person in question had some better instruction, if only they’d practice a little more, if only they were just better trained, then everything will or would have been fine.
It’s an attractive idea, and it’s true that having better skills is nearly always vital to success. You are certainly more likely to succeed with them, but it’s not always true that you can train your way around all of the downsides of a tactical or gear choice….or that it’s a good idea to try.
Stress changes everything, especially the kind of stress that threatens to kill your ego or your body. It is possible to simulate those kinds of conditions, and to create the physiological responses and mental breaks that can occur when fighting for your life, but it requires a level of dedication and an investment in time that can be difficult to commit to. While many folks will claim to practice under stressful conditions, it’s easy to underestimate the amount of stress that needs to be induced. If you aren’t using pressure from an outside source completely external to you, and if it isn’t enough that you are screwing up at least some of the time, it’s probably not enough. If you’re screwing up a lot of the time, then maybe that’s a sign that you shouldn’t rely on what you’re trying to do and certainly not for something you’re thinking to use to save your life in the worst case.
If you practice under real stress, like working against a live opponent who is trying to win your training scenario, you’ll likely quickly discover something else: it’s important to set yourself up for success. While suboptimal solutions can work in practice and even under some stress like generous time standards or when your training partner is allowing you to succeed, they generally start falling apart more and more as the stress intensifies and as you aren’t as on top of their game as you might be. What you can accomplish when you’ve gotten a full night’s rest, have eaten recently, and have no injuries is generally far more than otherwise. Similarly, what works when you know that’s what you’re going to do might not work so well when it’s one of several options that might present themselves in the course of a confrontation. That’s why techniques that don’t require as much effort and equipment that isn’t as complicated tend to be better options.
The further you get from simple and easy, the more repetitions are necessary to ingrain the right way to do or use something. There’s a lot of brain science behind it, but the upshot is that it’s hard to reliably access skills unless we known them really well – have overlearned them to the point of automaticity, if you want to use the big words. Without that deep familiarity and mastery, you’ll need to think about how to do the thing and that’s not likely to be successful as a situation becomes increasingly chaotic and stressful, or if you need to do it without time for mental or physical preparation. Think about the experience, for instance, of learning to drive a car, and how all of the pedals and levers and buttons and switches require lots of attention in the beginning, and how someone who’s been driving for years can operate all of them smoothly in spite of distractions and even in emergencies.
But learning something really well doesn’t mean you can do it again whenever you want, on demand. While you might not have forgotten how to ride a bike after a few decades off, those first few hundred feet when you started again were probably pretty nerve wracking and wobbly. The same is true of all skills. The better you know them, the longer you will remember them, but it takes a lot of really good knowing to remember them for long. For most of us with most defensive skills, that means regular practice and by regular, that often means at least several times a week. If you can squeeze together the resources to do so, you have a broader set of options to choose from. If you can’t, then limiting yourself to the more basic and memorable might be a good idea.
When you don’t set yourself up for success, you’re choosing to not stack the deck in your favor. It’s possible that everything will work out and that you will emerge unscathed from a bad situation. It’s also possible that you will be hurt or even killed because of a decision or series of decisions you’ve made that add up to a little too much complication or a little too narrow a margin for error. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather have as many of the odds on my side as possible.