Functional vs Improvisational Training

Mar 16, 2020

Let's talk about understanding the difference between improvisational training and functional training and how we should approach working with our children to give them a clear understanding and skill set of for personal protection.

How can they really take ownership of the lessons you teach them, and do so in a way that they don't get discouraged?

Training by nature comes with risk, and the risk exists in both functional and improvisational models of training. Understanding that first, (before I get into the differences between the two approaches to training) is important.

Danger exists physically and mentally in training. Mentally can be space or experience where someone gets discouraged iand they quit. We don't want them to do that, we want them to stay motivated, to enjoy the experience.

But we also want the experience to be garnished with reality. We want the experience experience to be at sometimes shocking, but of course not traumatic.

We want them to understand the experience and to slowly, gradually increase their threshold for fear and discomfort.

Well, this starts at functional training, and then it moves into improvisational training.

Functional training is your basics. It's your formulas.

Where improvisational training is just what it says. It's off script. It is different scenarios, different situations, it's jamming.

Let me use the example of music. I don't consider myself a musician, but I love playing guitar. I have my whole life, yet I'm not even a good guitarist.

But I understand that I need to practice my scales. I need to practice my rhythm when I'm playing my chords. I can play a couple songs, but in no way would I be able to sit down in a jazz bar and jam alongside some improv jazz musicians.

And this is precisely where the risk comes. In an improvisation.

The risk actually is being noticed. If I was to sit down with some jazz musicians and play my guitar, it would be very noticeable that I wasn't good.

In personal protection training, the risk within improvisation is injury, so we start with functional training. 

The risk within functional training is discouragement and lack of discipline. This is important to understand, because discipline and discouragement doesn't exist in improvisation, the risk there is purely outcome.

When you work with your children in creating formulas and doing the lessons that I teach in my Close Quarter Dad program or possibly you have your children enrolled in a quality martial arts program ... make sure that core functional movement is being really impressed on their learning.

Here's an example; the first thing children are going to learn is how to do forward rolls, back falls and side falls in a good Judo program. This is because, inherently in Judo, the next thing that they're going to learn is how to take someone's balance and bring them under their control through some type of takedown.

In order to do that, they have to know the function of falling.

They become safe to train with, then they could very gradually move into randori or sparring, and can start grappling and doing more freeform movement.

The level of that freeform movement should be aligned with where they're functional training skill set has progressed to. That's why we have a ranking system in Judo and in Jujutsu.

If we go into an environment where the impress improvisational training first, where everybody's rolling and there's very little functional training happening, this could become dangerous. No, it will be eventually. 

As I mentioned, the student who needs functional training will become discouraged. This is the risk. But even more, because they don't have the functional background, they're more susceptible to injury.

This is how you'll be approaching and training with your children, teaching them functional movements, teaching the basic, grip breaks or how to get out of a bear hug.

When they don't know the technique, they haven't owned it. They don't understand the concept in principal, the feeling or the actual shock of having someone grab you - even if it's Dad, let alone a strange man.

When you have some wise-ass come up and say, ‘Yeah, well, what if I do it like this?’ … and they will. This is stepping into improvisation at precisely when you don't belong there. Make sense? They are asking you to step up onto the stage, when you haven't even read the script yet, you don't even know what the story line’s about. Or, it’s like walking into the cafe with a guitar that you've never picked up before you don't know how to play it and you're trying to improv with the jazz band.

This is what stops potentially great students from becoming great martial artists. Approach training your children with this same framework, where functional is important until they understand the concept, the movement, they can flow without having to think about it.

You should not touch improvisational movement at this point.

Helping them through the threshold of discomfort and fear is critical. Going hands on with your child and getting them comfortable with being imbalanced and shoved around is going to help.

If the situation happens where someone's trying to grab them and pull them down a set of stairs, they’ll be somewhat used to moving in and out of imbalance.

They're going to be able to balance themselves, or grab onto something safe much quicker and easier - because of the work that you're doing together in functional training.

Functional training doesn’t need to be combat oriented either. in fact, most of their functional movement is in fact ‘non combative’. It's simply not specific to the topic of personal protection, but it is extremely important. An example is basic, functional running. Are you certain your child understands how to run properly and has the stamina?

Just like basic swimming, have they diligently practices functional strokes?

Understanding how to do the strokes is going to allow them to stay afloat much longer, rather than just throwing them into a pool and seeing if they can figure it out. You obviously see the danger there, right?

As well, too many martial arts stay inside the world of functional training, and they don't go into the improvisational space enough. They stay inside their form, inside the formulas. This is simply step-by-step choreographed role-play. Granted, it has its place within functional training, but can be hidden behind by those less than willing to cross over into the improvisational.