Re-Thinking Resistance Part I- Rory Miller

Years ago I wrote an article, The Myth of the Fully Resisting Opponent ( In that article, I was ranting. Largely because the force I dealt with working the jail was so unrelated to what I saw or felt in sport. The most extreme full-contact combat sport was as close to a violent assault as non-contact sport sparring was to the most extreme full-contact combat sport. The article was a rant, and while it was pertinent and accurate, it wasn’t actually very useful.

In this article, I want to explore resistance, both in training and real life.

Any time you apply force, whether in practice or in danger, that force must overcome some level of resistance.

In training, those levels can be described as:

  • Cooperative
  • Compliant
  • Situational
  • Scaled
  • Directed
  • Sport
  • Specific

In real life, the resistance levels are:

  • Cooperative
  • Compliant
  • Undecided
  • Passive
  • Active
  • Assaultive
  • Lethal
  • Asymmetrical

Training Levels of Resistance

In training, the goal is to build skills. The level of resistance should be geared toward maximizing the learning process but can easily be perverted to manufacturing an illusory level of competence.

Cooperative Resistance.

The cooperative level isn’t a level of resistance at all. Almost the opposite. This is the student who throws himself. Or who stumbles back before the demo punch has even landed. This is the student who responds to the “no-touch knockout.”

I’m going to try hard not to talk about systems, styles or instructors here. Kicking over a tribal hornet’s nest is fun, but rarely (if ever) makes for good communication. I’ve seen an instructor teach his students that, “Your body knows that two pieces of matter cannot occupy the same space, and so when I thrust my palm toward your face, your body has no choice but to fall.” His students would actually throw themselves onto their backs if faced with anything that looked like a palm heel strike. That technique worked on nobody except his own students.

I’ve seen students so damaged by previous instruction that they fell down before I had actually touched them.

Either the students are faking, or they are not. If the students are faking, it’s pretty dark stuff. The student has been taught that in order to get along, he or she must victimize themselves. The instructor applies the technique and the student responds though there is no reason. This prepares the student for failure and it allows the person who applies the technique as well as any observers to have a completely unfounded faith in the technique and the system.

If the student is not faking, it may be worse. It implies an extreme level of brainwashing. Brainwashing can be quick. The students who want “secrets” and “magic” are especially vulnerable and can be conditioned to fall in a matter of minutes.

This is an abomination. There is no learning advantage to this level of “resistance.”

Compliant Resistance.

Compliant resistance is simply going along with the technique. It has two good training purposes.

When a student is first learning a skill or technique, excessive resistance can convince them that a good technique doesn’t work. A good BJJ or judo partner must let a beginner get the armbar at first so that the beginner learns the flow of the technique. Same goes for a rookie officer learning a handcuffing technique.

This is appropriate at a very specific, early time in training. Once the technique is understood, resistance has to increase so that the rookie learns how to overcome resistance.

Compliant resistance becomes toxic when it spreads throughout the system. Let’s face it an instructor can look really good if he or she only works with compliant partners. Some instructors, consciously or not, start rewarding compliance and punishing resistance. Compliance can then quickly spread through a class or even an entire system. The system quickly becomes useless outside of that particular system.

Compliance is also appropriate when it becomes too late to resist safely. Resisting a throw after you are in the air and hurtling to the ground can result in serious injury (writes the man who dislocated his own shoulder to deny an opponent a point). This mostly applies to well-executed locks and throws and especially throws from locks.

It’s a safety rule and a good one. It doesn’t become toxic unless the students are told that all locks and throws are equally dangerous regardless of quality and they start practicing going along with even poor technique.

To be continued.


3 thoughts on “Re-Thinking Resistance Part I- Rory Miller”

  1. I think listing the levels of resistence is a very useful way of thinking about them in relation to training and real-life experiences.

  2. I commented on this to Rory, I am training my fellow CRGI director Jayne’s son, Sam, one of my juniors and we are currently working on a few fight scenarios, currently I am compliant, again and again, whilst he drills the techniques, then we up the resistance slowly so he can up his game. Whether fighting standing up or on the ground I keep it just difficult enough for it to make him work for it, let him get it occasionally even if I have to take a few shots, and without making it obvious lets him taste success but with the reality that it sometimes has a cost.

    1. I think the majority of flaws in physical self-defense training can be explained by Rory’s breakdown of resistence. People talk about “Pressure Testing” all the time. But Pressure Testing is just another word for resistence.

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