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How to Solve Your Training Problems with the Law Enforcement S.A.R.A. Model

March 24, 2005 06:53 AM

"Man is at his highest plateau of intelligence when put to the task of solving problems. Without the challenges of solving problems we stagnate and become complacent. With complacency comes eventual regression."
?Tommy Kono

A year and a half ago I was assigned as a Community Police Officer to a neighborhood that has struggled for years with a high crime rate. The position includes the responsibility of identifying quality of life issues faced by the community and the development of strategies for addressing those issues. To accomplish this goal I use a common problem solving model, used by numerous police departments across the country, called S.A.R.A.

S.A.R.A. is the acronym for Scan, Analyze, Respond, and Assess. While this problem solving model has been used successfully by police departments for years, it doesn't have to be limited to Community Oriented Policing. You can apply it to your martial arts training, your strength training, your business, or just about anything you encounter problems in from time to time. In this article I'll show you how to use the S.A.R.A model for the purposes of improving your training.

Scanning is nothing more than identifying a problem or weakness. It's the first and easiest step in problem solving. In training you may have identified your problem as a weak and awkward Bent Press, or an issue stemming from being caught in a bent arm bar from the cross mount by Joe Jitsu three classes in a row, or maybe the problem arose from your sparring partner's size 12 foot prints that covered your white gi the last time you sparred that made it look like someone was break dancing all over you. In any case, if you have some hard training time in you should have a clear idea of your weaknesses.

During a training discussion with some of my Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu students, one commented that he always gets stuck in a particular position. When I asked him why he always ends up in that position and what steps he's taken to correct it, he gave me a funny look and said, "I don't know. I just try not to get there." That's a poor way to analyze your failure, and a guaranteed way to continue repeating it. It's obvious that he had put no thought into his problem and had no plan of action for fixing it. Although he had successfully identified his problem, he hadn't figured out why it kept reoccurring.

Analyzing your problem can prove to be a bit challenging, depending on its nature. If you've hit a plateau on your Deadlift, analyzing it may just be a matter of looking back through your training log to see that you've been on the same program for the past 10 months without change. But when your problem is more dynamic like the chess game of a fast paced jiu-jitsu match or the technical skills for performing a heavy bent press, it can be far more difficult to analyze. For the most part we can't see or don't realize our own mistakes as they occur. We just know the end result was not what we desired. Below is a list of ideas you can use to help analyze your training problem.

  1. Read the technique sequences again and/or write it down ? If it's a particular lift you're having trouble with, reading a book or article on the details of the lift before hand can help. Writing the details down and then using a light weight to go through the motions as someone reads back what you wrote will keep you from not only missing a detail, but help you go through the lift mindfully. Another good practice is to keep a training log. While this is obvious for the serious strength athlete, I've seen very few martial artists do this. Write down everything you can remember about your last match, preferably right afterward. Then read it over before you go up against the same opponent again. This will put your prior match fresh in your mind, so you can readily identify reoccurring sequences. Piecing the puzzle together this way will slowly help you see the whole picture.
  2. Use a video camera ? Video taping your performance will allow you to analyze your performance as a whole from the outside looking in, without the stress and distraction of holding a heavy weight overhead, an opponent twisting on your arm, or your sparring partner folding you in half with a hard side kick. Repeatedly watch the video taking in every little detail of movement, not just your movement, but your opponents as well. Look for subtle telegraphing or set ups. I guarantee Chuck Lidell has watched his last match against Randy Couture a hundred times analyzing his mistakes in preparation for their next fight. When video taping yourself performing a lift, make sure you film it from a few different angles so you get the full story.
  3. Ask an instructor or qualified coach ? Not all of us have the experience or knowledge to analyze and find our own mistakes. This is where having a qualified coach or instructor can really help. If you're asking your martial arts instructor for help, make sure you explain your problem to him or her beforehand, so they know what to look for ahead of time. If it's a particular kettlebell lift you're struggling with, hire a certified RKC to work with you. It's doubtful the "personal trainer" at your local McFitness club will give you any sound advice on how to keep from smashing the back of your forearms during kettlebell snatches.
  4. Ask the guy that's better than you ? Can't find a qualified coach with some letters behind his name, no problem. If help with your deadlift form is what you're looking for, just find yourself a real gym. You'll know it when you walk in and hear the clanging sound of free weights hitting together as you struggle to see through the haze of chalk dust in the air. Look for the guy pulling an ungodly amount of weight from a set of pins in the squat rack and ask him. Just wait till he's done before you ask so your outline doesn't become a gym floor decoration. If it's your sparring that needs help, ask one of the more talented fighters to watch you and give you some feedback. This is hit or miss if the guy you ask is the one that keeps beating you. I always share the mistakes my students make when grappling with me, but I've had instructors that would never tell me what I was doing wrong because it would make it harder to tap me out the next time.
By now you should be getting the idea of how to analyze your training mistakes. It can be time consuming, but nothing worth achieving is ever easy. Once you've figured out what you've done wrong it's time to respond and fix it.
Your response plan will determine your success or failure. If your response is "I'll just try not to get there," or you bought a black gi so your sparring partner's foot prints wouldn't be visible on it after you trained, then it's time for you to accept the fact that you're just not going to improve. An intelligent and thorough strategy is critical for continued improvements in the gym or on the mat. This is where smart training, repeated practice, and hard work come into play. You've put in this much time and effort, don't quit now!

Is it time to drop the stair step cycle of 5x5 training and switch to a wave loading cycle of 3x3? Maybe you need to work some auxiliary drills to help you learn how to flare your lat hard enough to make that bent press go up. Perhaps you can have that guy with the monster pull coach you through a couple sets of deadlifts to square your form away, or drill that position counter and arm bar escape 20 times a day for the next month. You get the idea.

Correcting your weaknesses isn't rocket science, but it does take proper planning. Once you've determined what your response plan will be you have to determine where in your overall program you're going to place it. This is easy if your response plan is a matter of changing up the set/rep scheme of a particular lift or program. But if your response plan involves correcting some technical mistakes in your martial arts game or in a certain lift then proper placement of it is critical for success. I recommend placing corrective drills at the beginning of your session when you're fresh. Without undue fatigue you'll be able to give the technically demanding practice the utmost focus it deserves, thus increasing your chances of success. Here are two examples of how a program may be structured to include corrective training?

Hypothetical Problem 1: Your heels come off the deck and you struggle to get very deep in the two kettlebell front squat.

Sample Program design:
  1. Warm-up: Pavel Tsatsouline's Super Joints drills.
  2. Corrective training for the front squat:
    1. Squat down and begin shifting your feet to find your ideal squat stance; that is the feet flat on the ground and your knees track ingyour feet. Repeat several times until you obtain your ideal stance without having to shift your feet around.
    2. The hip opening drill, practicing elongating the hips ('pulling the hips out of the sockets').
    3. Squat down letting your breath out at the bottom, allowing yourself to sink deeper into the squat (without weights).
  3. 2 KB Front Squat (squatting to a box set at your lowest point) 3x5
  4. Weighted Tactical Pull-ups 3x5
    Alternated w/
  5. 2 KB Clean & Press 3x5
  6. Janda sit-up 3x5
  7. Pavel Tsatsouline's Relax into Stretch drills focusing on the hips and groin.
Hypothetical Problem 2: You keep getting arm barred while attempting to pass your opponents guard.

Sample Program Design:
  1. Warm-up: Steve Maxwell's Joint Mobility drills
  2. Corrective training for defending the arm bar:
    1. Sensitivity training feeling for your partner to open his legs.
    2. Practice controlling your opponent's hips by chasing him around every time he shifts them.
    3. Practice pulling your elbows in.
    4. Practice defending his leg coming over with the hand that's not being controlled.
    5. Practice your guard pass from properly defended position.
  3. Steve Maxwell's Strength and Conditioning Drills for Grapplers with partner.
  4. Live wrestling (while not getting arm barred)
  5. Light stretching or Yoga.
Your response plan should also include your goal. It's imperative that your objective be clear, measurable, and attainable in order to judge the final piece of this problem solving model. Pulling a 500-pound deadlift, when your current max is 480, by the end of your next cycle or successfully defending Joe Jitsu's armbar are examples of realistic goals.

Once you've followed through with the strategies of your response plan it's time to assess your training results. Your assessment is simple enough; did you successfully correct your mistakes and attain your goal? If so congratulations! If not it's back to the drawing board. Sometimes your initial response plan will only correct part of your mistake or none of it at all. This is where perseverance comes into play. Go back and re-analyze what worked and what didn't and then re-work your response plan.
So if your struggling with a problem in your training don't stagnate and become complacent, allowing your progress to eventually regress. Take the time to scan, analyze, respond, and assess your training difficulty. By putting forth the thought and effort in correcting your training mistakes you'll insure continued progress. The S.A.R.A. model is a simple and effective problem solving model. I've used it with continued success at work, on the mat, and in the gym. And I'm confident you can too.

About the Author:
Michael Johnson, RKC
is a Maryland based police officer with 14 years of strength and martial arts training experience. He holds several instructor certifications in the Field of Law Enforcement Defensive Tactics. Mike is currently a purple belt in the art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu under Professor Pedro Sauer and teaches both BJJ and RKC to groups and individuals at the Baltimore Martial Arts Academy.

Mike can be contacted at