Silent, slow, and cooperative.
The silent part is easy enough—we don’t want to communicate if we’re training to operate in the place where communication has failed (preparing ourselves for asocial action)—but going slow makes no sense whatsoever. Especially when everyone knows violence actually happens at full speed.
And “reacting” for each other is equally nonsensical; working against full resistance makes much more sense as no one’s going to move for you in the real world. The old, and well accepted paradigm of full-contact sparring is in order—time-tested, satisfying, and in-step with our expectations and understanding of violence.
Except that full-contact sparring ignores both modern innovations in the training of physical coordination and the mechanical facts of successful violence… besides, if no one goes to the hospital, how effective is it, really?
SLOW IS SMOOTH… SMOOTH IS FAST
When we look at the successful use of violence—where one person inflicts debilitating injury on another—we see the same features repeated over and over: accuracy & correctness.
Accuracy means they hit a vulnerable target, not the forehead, not the cheek but precisely the eye. Correctness means they struck with enough force and follow-through to ruin that important bit of anatomy.
If you miss, nothing happens. If you hit, but without sufficient force and follow-through to disrupt tissue, nothing happens. Get both right and everything changes: he’s blind and begins behaving like a blind man with a serious injury.
This is the answer, in a nutshell, for why we train the way we do. We train for the moment where everything changes in your favor—not for the three seconds of chaos before the first real injury. Not for the five rounds of non-specific trauma before the “accident” in the ring. We train to make accidents happen on purpose.
So how best to do that? If we know we must be accurate and correct with the tool at our disposal—our own body—then we must train to wield it accurately and correctly. This is where going slow comes in.
The concept of training rapid-fire physical action in slow-motion is called “deep practice”, and Googling the term will lead you down a rabbit hole of near-endless thought, discussion and application. In music, golf, Olympic weightlifting, shooting, and really the training of any physical action where precision matters and extraneous movement is undesirable or dangerous.
The short story is that deep practice allows you to be aware of every single movement you make—correct and incorrect—and allows you to discard the unwanted movement while reinforcing the movement you do want. This self-correction rewires the brain in a way that tracks directly to rapid-fire, full-speed execution.
Train fast and you make so many mistakes you have no idea how to improve; train slow and the errors occur one at a time and give you the opportunity to trim them off, leaving nothing but the desired sequence of movement.
Daniel Coyle’s book, The Talent Code, is an in-depth discussion of deep practice and its results in many different physical pursuits. I recommend it for anyone still curious after drinking from the fire hose of a “deep practice” Google search.
NO ESCAPE: MOVE WITH THE INJURED MAN
If we have been accurate and correct—if we hit a square-inch of important anatomy with enough force to break it—we inflict a debilitating injury. This is the part where the scrappy furball resolves into one man going from being dangerous and active to helpless and reactive.
When it comes to blunt force trauma, injured people move in response to their injury. Neurologically, organisms move away from negative stimuli—broken ribs and a bruised spleen, a ruptured eye, a crushed groin, a broken joint—the body tries to move the site of the injury away from whatever caused it, in a vain attempt to prevent further injury. (Note that this has nothing to do with pain—pain is entirely subjective while a broken knee is not.)
Also, forces move mass. When you break something inside the man by smashing it with your body weight in motion, you will tend to unbalance and move him. Both of these mechanisms can be seen in action at the moment of injury.
If we wish to train for that moment, then we need to find our target, strike it accurately, follow all the way through with our mass and if we have done that correctly we should expect to see results—our partner’s reaction.
If we train without reactions, we are left with a choice: either nothing we do will “work” or we can actually injure our partner and get one great reaction… and lose our partner for the near future as he goes to the hospital and then spends time off the mats recovering. And comes back, maybe, one eye short.
As we (kind of don’t) like to say at more advanced levels of training: “You can give me a reaction or I can take one from you.”
When we look at real, successful violence we see the results of injury—we want to add those results into our training to give us realistic sight pictures of success. That way we know when we “got it” and it’s time to pile in and finish it, and when we don’t so we know to redouble our efforts (with better accuracy and correctness).
People won’t just move for you, but injured people will move in response to their injury. And we want to learn not just how to cause that injury, but how to take full advantage of it. Modeling the reactions gives us that opportunity to train for that moment instead of being surprised by it.
Taken all together, our counterintuitive training methodology seeks to replicate what we see in successful violence, instead of training to go five rounds or overpower the man we want to “cheat” and do the things that aren’t allowed in competition, or even in no-holds-barred, anything-goes full-contact matches.
We want exactly the eye, with enough purchase and follow-through to tear it out of the skull, and with the other man moving like he’s just lost one of them. The only way to train that is slowly—to lay it in accurately and correctly—and with a partner who’s going to move that eye away from your hand. Anything else is haphazard, dangerous, and preparing you for a terrifying epic battle instead of simple, fight-ending injury.
TFT Master Instructor
Addendum: How Slow Is Slow?
Slow enough that you:
- Get everything you want exactly right,
- Maintain your balance, and
- Your partner is able to give you good, clean reactions.
Whenever one or more of these isn’t true, you need to slow down until they’re all back in line. As your skill improves, and that of your partner, you can pick up the pace, but only as long as you’re fulfilling all three criteria. The workout pace is always going to be bounded by the weakest link; if a Cadre Instructor jumps in with a beginner the instructor can get everything they want exactly right and maintain their balance at speed… but that beginner won’t be able to give good clean reactions. So they’d have to slow the pace to match the beginner’s reactions. On the flip side, while the instructor can give good, clean reactions at speed, the beginner can’t work perfectly and in balance at that rate, so, again, the rate will default to the lowest common denominator.
[Tim Larkin note: As Chris mentions, training SLOW is probably the most criticized (yet most misunderstood) aspect of TFT training. All that's about to come to a screeching halt. A renowned biomedical engineer has now published a definitive work on the subject, confirming why SLOW training is crucial to maximize your success in specifically learning TFT (and many other skills as well). Watch for my notes on his research coming soon!]