Resistance comes in many forms and has many uses. But that does not mean they are all equal to each other. Gandhi practiced peaceful resistance to authority; Steven Pressfield talks about it as a force combating creativity. Depending on the context, resistance can have either a positive or negative impact. For the martial artist, resistance has two positive variations: passive and active. The passive training partner accepts your technique; the active is challenging you. Each variation has its strength, and good martial arts programs will mix these two in their training schedule. Active resistance makes the most impact on your skill development. Super charge your training with active resistance.
In learning new techniques and in certain phases of drilling, passive resistance is important. The opponent in passive mode complies with you. Whether freezing upon the first action or moving into position for you, the passive opponent is helping you train your body mechanics. Focus on being as technically perfect as possible in this phase. Be mindful of how your body works to accomplish your goal. Are your limbs in the right spot? How’s your balance? What feels awkward? In Counterpoint Tactical Systems, this would be the “Learn the Drill” phase and the beginning part of the “Drill the Drill” phase.
Creativity is possible with a fully compliant opponent; however, adaptability is not. I can develop a twenty count striking pattern, but what if my training partner counters at step two? Thus, passive resistance is only part of the process. Never leaving this stage hampers your growth. In reality, your opponent will not be compliant and will move unexpectedly. Sport martial arts – whether MMA, Jiu Jitsu, Wrestling, Judo, Tae Kwon Do, Kick Boxing, Muay Thai, etc. – has shown us that each fight is a unique entity. Each has its own set of unique variables. The superior fighter is the one who can adapt to the changing situation. This concept easily transfers to self-defense scenarios. Working ONLY with passive resistance limits our skill development.
Active resistance is where your training partner challenges you. It is a more dynamic, give-and-take practice. In this stage, skill development shifts from mechanics to attributes. Timing, distance management, sensitivity, countering, all are developed through active resistance. Why did my jab fall short? Did I miss my window to counter the technique? Active resistance is where we develop adaptability. During this phase, our training doesn’t just let us do what we want. Obstacles are placed in front of us, and those same obstacles adjust to create growth. Whether this means learning better timing, set ups, footwork, combinations, whatever, we cannot continue with the same attributes we developed with passive resistance. For CTS, active resistance would be in the middle and at the end of the “Drill the Drill” phase and, entirely, in the “Forget the Drill” phase of study.
When I bring up active resistance, most people think all out, free sparring. Yes, that is part of active resistance, but it isn’t limited to that alone. It doesn’t have to be zero or limited resistance straight to maximum opposition. Drilling, drill sparring, and technique sparring are methods of increasing the resistance in a manageable progression. For example, positional sparring in grappling is a form of drill sparring. The two training partners are not passive, but they’ve been limited in strategy and goal. They’re working hard and trying their best, but have specific boundaries to stay within. Technique sparring is limiting sparring to a few techniques like jab/cross. By sparring jab/cross only, we work on the attributes necessary to apply those techniques real time.
Challenge yourself with active resistance at an appropriate level. The biggest pitfall is applying the concept too fast, too soon. Only after the passive resistance phase should active resistance be introduced. The student should have some skills before being thrown to the wolves. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu schools will spar new students, but most give the students some tools first. Whether you start with technique or drill, the student has to learn something before moving to active resistance.
Let’s study a boxer’s progression. The boxing students goes from learning proper body mechanics to learning basic combinations to shadow boxing to patterned mitt work to mitt work with defense to freestyle mitt work to sparring. This is a simplified version of the progression, and obviously not all trainers will follow this to the letter. But the progression holds. Walk into a boxing gym, and if you’re respectful, you’re not gonna fight on day one. You’ll learn techniques first and work on your conditioning. You’ll start with passive resistance and build to the more active forms. All fighter training follows a similar progression because it works. As you develop your training model, build towards active resistance.
For the martial artist, resistance is a tool that can help or hinder progress. Too much of it is a barrier against which students just bash themselves repeatedly. Not enough leads to students with inflated egos and unrealistic expecatations about their skills. Balancing sufficient levels of resistance is an art all to itself.