As professional Warriors, we all know that there are many challenges associated with training. Sometimes it’s the cost, the proximity, the time or the process of trying to find a credible trainer. Regardless of what the challenges (excuses) are, we owe it to our family’s, our colleagues and ourselves to maintain our skills. Recently I found one of the best ways to maintain my skills is by participating in a department fight club.
You may ask, so what is a department fight club? Basically it is a group of people from the same agency getting together on a regular basis to practice their skills. It’s usually unofficial and somewhat casual, therefor making it a great environment to learn new skills and practice old ones. It is also an excellent form of camaraderie and morale building.
In it’s simplest form, starting a fight club is really easy. All you need is a location and a few people that want to train. After that everything else is a bonus that will enhance the experience. Here are some ideas to help get you started.
Having a coordinator may not appear to be that important, but without them your fight club will not succeed. This person doesn’t need to be a skilled fighter, department instructor or even a senior member of the organization. Although all of those things could definitely help the coordinator. All this person really needs is some good communication and logistics skills. As well, if they have a working relationship with department supervisors or management they will enhance their ability to set things up. As for responsibilities, the coordinator will basically be responsible for setting up the club. They will use their skills to find a location, perhaps secure some training aides and then communicate a schedule with potential or existing members. If this sounds like a lot of work, don’t worry because it doesn’t all have to be done by one member. Teamwork at coordinating will definitely help, but understand that one or two people need to take the lead role in the club or it will not succeed.
Finding a location can either be a simple task or totally onerous. Ideally you want something near most members, with adequate space and possibly some equipment. As well if it doesn’t cost anything, that’s even better. The best suggestion I can have for this is to look inward at your department before looking externally. Many departments have a training facility that will meet all your needs and then some. In fact the facility where the recruit training is conducted will serve multiple purposes. First you may be able to generate some members from either the recruits or the instructors. (If you want instructors to come out, don’t allow recruits to train until after they have graduated). Secondly, having your fight club in the proximity of recruits will show them that your department is committed to development and will help foster that ever so important mind set. A word of caution however, make sure you get approval to use a department facility after hours or for activities outside of structured training. Some agencies will not allow them to be used for unauthorized/unsupervised training due to liability purposes.
3. Instructor (s)
Having department Use of Force or Combatives instructors attend fight club is an excellent way to enhance the experience. These people are usually extremely experienced and are full of good training ideas. In fact many instructors may attend your fight club for a chance to practice skills that are outside the department curriculum. A fight club in general is probably one of the best places for a department instructor as it will allow them to practice the skills they teach, learn new skills and help develop the departments future instructors. Just a word of caution to the instructors is to remember fight club is not a recruit class. The members will be there on their own time and running it like a recruit class is an easy way to have a severe reduction in attendance. Keep it light and fun, but also relevant and your fight club will succeed.
Getting people to participate may seem to be an easy task, but in reality can often be very difficult. At first, a lot of people may express interest, however when the time comes to train after work or on days off you will be surprised at how many people show up in comparison to how many people said they would. This may be discouraging, however if you don’t let this stop you, you can succeed by adding one or two members at a time and growing a little bit at a time. In fact, you probably don’t want it to get too big too fast anyway, as it may be more difficult to control. If you want to increase the size of your membership then there are several things you can do to encourage participation. Below are some examples of ways to generate interest in order to get new people and keep them coming back:
– Unlike the movie, “The #1 rule of fight club is to talk about fight club” (you also need more rules, which we will discuss later). The point here is I strongly recommend you do not keep your club a secret. Talk about it all the time, to whomever you can, as you might be surprised at how fast word spreads and how quickly you start getting some new people.
– Advertise: Use whatever means available to get your message out. Things like posters in lunch rooms, department workout areas or in briefing rooms. Maybe an email fan out to your unit or department mailing lists (with authorization of course). If you have an agency newsletter or blog, perhaps you can write an article to draw attention to the club.
– Have a dedicated time and make sure someone is there. Some people will simply want to drop in and observe for their first time. They may not wish to coordinate in advance and may be strongly discouraged if they drop in and no one is there.
– Get support from superiors. People will be more likely to attend if they know that the bosses are OK with the club. Managers and supervisors that are involved or simply aware may be more incline to grant people early dismissal to attend. Any initiatives that are well supported by higher will always have a greater chance of success over those that don’t. Keep it safe, with no costs and with little issues in order to get and keep the support of the white shirts.
– Keep it safe. No one wants to train if they think they might get hurt.
– Create a positive learning and development environment. Remember this is completely voluntary, so although you need to control it for safety and time management don’t turn it into a Drill Sergeant style class or dictatorship program. Also keeping with the learning aspect, make sure attendees are getting value for their time. All participants should be developing skills. More experienced people may not develop individual skills as much as they may develop instructional or coaching skills.
In order to foster adequate training and ensure safety, some equipment is a must in order to be successful. The equipment required will be greatly determined with what the club wants to do, or has experience with. Some people may want to work on striking which will mean it is necessary to have strike bags, focus mitts, boxing gloves, head gear and maybe some other items. Individuals may have their own equipment or maybe there is a pool of equipment that the club has acquired or borrowed. If your group wants to practice Jiu Jitsu, Wrestling or other grappling style skills, then getting some good mats is an absolute must. These can be quite expensive and difficult to pack around, so finding a location that has these already will be beneficial. Regardless of what the club practices, some equipment is a must. You may have shared equipment or you may encourage members to bring their own. Members will definitely want to have their own mouth guards, groin protection, hand wraps and any other close to skin equipment.
Liability is something you will definitely want to keep in mind for your fight club. Ensuring a safe and controlled environment will greatly reduce the clubs liability, but before you do anything make sure members understand the risks of participating in a club like this. Injuries may happen and it is important to know that the member may not be covered by the employer as the club is outside the area of the employers responsibility. For that reason some agencies will not support it, or may not allow it on their property. When you participate in a fight club or any martial art, or combat sport you do so at your own risk. If you are already injured you probably shouldn’t participate or do so with restrictions on what you do. If you are running a club keep it safe and try and avoid injuries completely. Frequent injuries will decrease membership interest and will definitely reduce managements support.
It is necessary to remember the importance of respect with any project and it is just as critical with a fight club. A positive training atmosphere is something that all instructors should strive to achieve even in mandated formal in service training and it is even more important in volunteer based groups like fight clubs. This is probably the most simple thing to explain since all participants are there on their own time, so if they do not enjoy it or feel comfortable they will definitely not come back and they will also not encourage others to attend. So keep this in mind when you start your fight club, but never forget it as your club grows. Inevitably there will be participants that end up taking a leadership role and most likely these will be the ones guiding the flow of the training. As they get more comfortable, their ideas and methods will become the focus of the club, but they should not be the exclusive guiding factor. Members that have been participating for a while, who are perhaps not as dynamic or charismatic may eventually want to contribute more than just their attendance and/or being more than frequent “demonstration dummies”. These folks may have great ideas for warm ups, drills or to showcase new techniques. I cannot stress enough how important it is to allow them to get more involved. For your club, these up and coming disciples will be the future of your group and can help you reach new heights in the capabilities of the organization. Coincidentally, this may be their only opportunity to develop skills such as coaching, instructing and public speaking. By allowing them to practice these skills in the comfort of the club and outside the stress of the work environment will allow their confidence and abilities to increase and will bleed over into the job. Their success at work will then be directly related to the efforts of the club and can have great benefits for both the agency and the club further down the road. Which is yet another argument for why agency brass should support clubs such as these.
So far most of my tips have been in relation to the logistics and structure of a club, but without content all the rest is completely unnecessary. The fact however is that the content will develop over time and is only limited to the experience and creativity of the membership. In order for the club to be successful your training content should have the following characteristics:
Relevance: Most of the training you do should be applicable to the work environment of the participants. Luckily a lot of skills out there are completely relevant to the threats encountered by most Warriors, so that should not be an issue. Even if it is remotely relevant, it might be worth training on, especially if it captivates the interest of the audience.
Consistent: This is not to say that you need to do the same thing every time you train, but keeping things consistent will reinforce skills and also help to keep the environment comfortable.
Limited: Make sure you do not try and throw too much at people to fast. If people feel overwhelmed they will not learn anything and be less likely to return. Subsequently if you want people to keep coming out, don’t give everything out at once. Give them a reason to always want to see what will be in store next session.
Fresh: Keeping with elements from that last point, you always want to try and add new things to keep people interested. Showcase a new skill or create different drills that reinforce previous skills. Something we have done with our club during times when we seemed to have plateaued, was to bring out a guest instructor in a specific field. You would be very surprised to see the drills and techniques held in the minds of different people.
Current: Make sure whatever you are doing is also current. Although techniques from a hundred years ago may look cool, they are not always still going to be relevant. If people don’t feel that they will be able to use these skills in the real world, they won’t retain anything and then it will simply be a time waster.
Progressive: People learn and develop skills at different rates. Those that come with an extensive background may find it easy to learn new skills quickly. Others may find it more difficult. Try and ensure that people progress throughout your program based on their level of development not what others want them to do. But the important key here is to develop and get better over time, otherwise why bother. Demonstrate new skills slowly and break them down into steps. Then practice static drills to reinforce the technique. Once people have the proper form down, then progress to more dynamic drills.
Do it right: Practice DOES NOT make perfect. PROPER PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT. Since a fight club can be a little more casual than a formal class, make sure people are teaching and practicing techniques properly. If the instruction is poor or the practice is wrong, people will simply be reinforcing bad habits over and over, which could be detrimental in the real world. Do it right or don’t do it. If you need help, don’t be afraid to ask.
Have a Plan: In order to accomplish everything mentioned here, it is important to have some kind of plan as to what you want to do. You may or may not want to write that plan down, but make sure someone in the club has a bit of a guide for that days training. It does not have to be complicated or extremely specific, just an idea of what you want to accomplish is a good start. Also, do not be afraid to deviate from your plan if someone has a better plan or you notice an area that someone should focus more time on. Failing to plan is a surefire plan to fail.
Have fun: So this is a club and you want it to be enjoyable. A positive experience will allow people to learn more and generate more interest. Bringing creativity and variety to the club will help keep people wanting to come back and learn more. The more they learn the better it is for them, the club and their employers. So be safe, structured and controlled, but don’t forget to have fun.