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Training Review: Rory Miller’s Ambushes and Thugs

Topic: Close Combat, Unarmed

Instructor/System: Rory Miller is a 17-year veteran as a corrections officer with 200+ violent encounters under his belt while working in prisons. As he describes himself: “Force is a form of communication. It is the most emphatic possible way of saying ‘no.’ For years my job was to say no, sometimes very emphatically, to violent people.” Drawing on this experience, Rory wrote a phenomenal book, Facing Violence: Preparing for the Unexpected. A review of that book from RMSR is forthcoming.

Content: “Ambushes & Thugs” is Rory Miller’s one-day seminar that serves as sort of an “introduction to violence.” It’s aimed at people new to unarmed combat, be they laypeople or ten year veterans of a sporting martial art. The topics covered include Rory’s “Seven Aspects of Self-Defense,” violence dynamics, counter-ambush procedures, breaking the freeze, OODA loops, efficiency in movement, understanding your feelings following a violent encounter, plus intent/means/opportunity and legal aspects around application of force in the US. In between short lecture components on those topics, students “play,” meaning they work together on semi-directed topics around power generation, different types of strikes, infighting, grappling, locks, and take-downs. He has some interesting ideas around close quarters grappling and fighting, particularly with his “Dracula’s Cape” maneuver and his notion of “extending the spine” as a body control mechanism.

If the class as a whole is ready for it, “Ambushes and Thugs” classes can also include blindfolded infighting and environmental fighting — the latter a euphemism to describe cramming people into corners, smashing them against toilets, and clobbering them with a nearby kettlebell or rock.

And there’s the first rub: “if the class a whole is ready for it.” The class doesn’t fit in any particular spot in people’s understanding of unarmed combat. It’s not typically billed as a beginner, intermediate, or advanced class, and so it attracts everyone and anyone. You could have one class that’s mostly scarred SWAT cops and another that’s mostly doe-eyed martial arts groupies more interested in a horse stance than a head stomp. In the same class, there might well be a 15 year Muay Thai instructor and a college girl who’s never been in a fight. The class is pretty free form and involves a lot of “play” — meaning wrestling/grappling at 70% effort and speed, but if you have such mismatches of skill, build, strength, and experience, the usefulness of the “play” is vastly diminished for people who’ve been in the game longer.

The lecture portions with Rory are excellent in their content but far too circumscribed in their delivery owing to how short the class is. All of the topics touched on in the class receive a far more measured, in depth examination in Rory’s “Facing Violence” book. As these topics are fundamental to combat, they deserve the close, measured attention that can be given to them when reading and which is lost to them when they’re boiled down to a 15 minute block while sitting on the mats in the back of a dojo. It’s not just that the topics are important, but also that Rory gives them such excellent treatment in “Facing Violence.” It’s frustrating to sit through a ten minute commentary glossing over a topic when you know the speaker has ten more hours of careful (and valuable!) thought around that same topic.

Overall, the class is rough, inconsistent, and not as good as it could be. Rory’s Facing Violence book clearly illustrates that he’s one of the few who gets it. The book should be on everyone’s bookshelf and probably re-read every year or two. The “Ambushes and Thugs” class, though, just doesn’t have the same magic. Even more fundamental than this, Rory comes out of a corrections environment, so while his mindset and associated topics are spot-on, his actual techniques favor compliance with minimal damage to the other person over ending the fight by the most expeditious method possible. If the class was otherwise excellent, it would be worth spending more time addressing that issue. Given the variety of other issues, however, that one can be ignored for now. The audience that can benefit from this class is the unarmed combat neophyte who refuses to the read books and refuses to get regular, consistent training with people slightly bigger, better, and stronger than themselves. In short, it’s not for people who’re reading RMSR.

RMSR Recommended: No, unless it’s a private class where you know the whole group is squared away and aggressive.

Pre-requisites: None.

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