Aliveness: Common Sense or Controversial?

People have asked me about Aliveness via Twitter, and I thought the best post to begin 2010 with is by discussing Aliveness in some detail. But first, here is a video by Matt Thornton.

I think Matt Thornton discusses some very valid points. Before going on any further, I just want to point out that it is not only MMA and bjj that utilise Aliveness. Aliveness can be seen in the best Reality Based Self Defence (RBSD) schools, weapons based martial arts as well as Law Enforcement, high end security and the military training packages. These areas will be discussed in some detail later.

Aliveness is not new. Indeed, introducing Aliveness into training is one of the key achievements of Jigoro Kano and his Judo at a time when such training was rare. Alive training is also a feature of Muay Thai, which has not really changed much for hundreds of years. Knee sparring, live drilling, free sparring and grappling were common. 

Randori = Aliveness 

In Judo, Aliveness is evident. Randori is Alive. It is not static. It is mobile. It is not scripted. It is 'Live'. At any time, one training partner or competitor may move to either side, attempt a better grip, choke or hold or go for a take down. It is worth pointing out that both Judo and Muay Thai, along with it's practitioners, are widely considered the most effective at what they do.

In the book by Renzo and Royler Gracie, "Brazilian Jui Jitsu: Theory and Technique", the authors talk about the genius of Kano in his implementation of Randori, or live sparring. Kano removed strikes and things like eye gouging and hair pulling etc. Once these were removed, two students could now engage 100% in a very live and dynamic manner. Not only did the students have to contend with the techniques, they had to deal with unpredictable movement, defences and counters, set ups, feints and draws. This new Randori was also much more physically and mentally demanding.

Sparring = Aliveness 

Today, these foundations form the basis of Aliveness. With the development of training equipment, close to 100% Alive training can be engaged in with strikes these days as well, without the bruising of traditional Muay Thai. This training is very stressful training. It places very realistic (from a self defence as well as combat sport viewpoint), physical and mental stressors on training partners.

Alive training also develops more subtle skills. It teaches things apart from offensive and defensive techniques. It also teaches the importance of position. From a dominant position, many offensive attacks from the opponent is insignificant and at the same time, ones own techniques are more devastating than from a neutral position. These advantages can be found in the clinch when standing, as well as on the ground.

For strike training, facing an opponent who has a much greater reach has its own challenges that can be explored in Alive training. An attacker who has excellent kicks and is difficult to close with, can teach much when facing them in Alive training. These are just some subtleties which benefit those who engage in Alive training. 

The Intelligent Cunning Thinking Opponent 

It is all about going up against an unpredictable and intelligent opponent with few limitations placed on what they might do. And they are going to resist and defend all of your moves to the best of their ability as well as bait and counter them, use feints, whatever works. It is live. This is very close to conditions faced on the street against a surprise attack. You are not going to know what they will do. Alive training is best practise as it so close to real Low Tech Combat.

Static vs Live 

Static and/or scripted training methods are nowhere near as effective as Alive training methods. Training methods such as one or three step sparring, kata and punching a Makiwara for example, does not simulate real conditions close enough to be considered effective.

They are, however, satisfactory methods for building up to more complete Alive training. Many of these more 'traditional' training methods can bridge the gap between learning how to perform a technique such as a round kick or punch and learning how to use it in live free sparring. When we can do that in training, we are prepared as best we can be for the real thing.

Alive training is not only full free sparring. There are an almost limitless number of Alive drills that can be used to develop attributes and appropriate reflexes, as well as focus on just one aspect of Low Tech Combat such as take down defence. 

A Simple Alive Drill 

For example, one training partner has gloves on and is to only use punch techniques. The other has a mouth guard in and is to draw an attack from the puncher and shoot in for a take down of whatever type they choose. The punchers end goal, is to sprawl to neutralise the take down. Once a take down has been achieved or neutralised by the sprawl, they stop, stand up, and start again. This simple drill is Alive. It focuses on very specific areas yet at the same time is live and dynamic, both partners are free to move around and need to gauge timing and distance. It is also physically and mentally stressful.

The above drill develops both striking and grappling skills. However it is mostly used to develop the sprawl. Traditionally (I am not sure if that is the best word...), Alive training has been seen to be used by the MMA and bjj community only. With that, some bias against Aliveness is pushed by the Traditional Martial Arts (TMA) community due to the rivalry that exists in elements of both communities. 

Aliveness is 'Best Practise' 

This is unfortunate. Alive training methods can, and should, be used in all martial arts and self defence schools. Alive training methods are best practise. They are further along the training continuum from very sterile, beginner stages, through to actual real combat.

The biggest reason most (all?), MMA schools utilise Alive training methods is because it gives results. Money and championship belts are at stake after all. If there were better training methods, the top fight gyms would adopt them and others would follow. But they don't because as of right now, Alive training methods ARE best practise. This is important to accept.

If you or your instructor are NOT using Alive training methods and you or your instructor market one aspect of the gym as providing self defence training of some sort then guess what? Your gym is being negligent! You or your instructor are not adequately preparing students for real attacks found on the streets. And this can easily be changed.

Aliveness Everywhere

No matter what 'style' of martial art you engage in, Alive training can be implemented rather easily. All of the traditional methods can be kept if you so choose. Simple Alive drills can be added in. Describing what these could be is another post altogether, or even book. Use your imagination. Look at what techniques are currently taught. Introduce some simple Alive drills. There are many you could develop. Then reduce the restrictions on these and eventually, safe Alive sparring using the appropriate protective equipment. If you want more information on this matter, Contact me through the form in the header.

Weapons Aliveness 

Unarmed martial arts is not the only endeavour to use Alive training methods. The best in weapons based martial arts such as the Dogbrothers and Ray Floro utilise Aliveness to the full. Simple moves are taught using Alive drills, developing skills. Many different areas can be developed in this way. Progression is made to full live free sparring using weapons and equipment especially designed for weapons sparring.

RBSD Aliveness 

Martial arts are not the only area where Alive training methods are being used. All of the best Self Defence or RBSD (or whatever you want to call it), systems utilise Alive training methods. Systems such as ISR Matrix, Tony Blauer's S.P.E.A.R. System, FAST Defense and Senshido all heavily focus on Alive training methods. The opponent is what is different, not the training method.

They are not preparing their students to fight someone in an Octagon, they are training them to be able to deal with attackers on the street or inside their homes. These schools have 'attackers' who do things like real attackers do. They talk, they scream and swear, they push, they punch, they pull a 'knife'. The attacks are different but the Alive training methods are still there. Alive drills are first taught, all the way up to full on, live scenarios. This is the equivalent to live free sparring for someone preparing for the Octagon.

These courses also attract a large number of Law Enforcement officers and security professionals as well, due the skill sets they develop.

Military Aliveness 

Aliveness is not that new any more. All of the best training organisations and schools use Alive training. Even the military use Alive training to prepare their soldiers for operations overseas.

They don't just send them to the rifle range and teach them to be a really good shot then send them into combat. That is the equivalent to teaching people one step sparring then sending them to Johannesburg late on a Saturday night. Soldiers are taken through scenarios where they are free to manoeuvre on the ground as they will in combat, often facing live opponents with SIMUNITION who can manoeuvre as well.

Can you see the comparison here? Alive training is best practise.


It is hoped that this post has shed some light on Aliveness and maybe given some ideas about how to implement some Alive training into your class, course or home sessions. It is everywhere. It really is 'best practise' and everyone engaging in Low Tech Combat training should utilise it. 

So today, in 2010, I wonder... Is Aliveness common sense or is it still controversial?