Training with Barry Eisler

A little while ago, I spent a week teaching Barry Eisler private classes every morning at his place. I’ve trained him before throughout the years but this was the first time we had a full week to dig a bit deeper into certain techniques.  For those of you who don’t know him, here’s some information. I like his books (and especially the John Rain series) a lot and highly recommend them if you like action packed thrillers featuring skilled assassins.


Anyway, Barry has an extensive grappling background (wrestling and a black belt in Judo from the Kodokan) and he asked me to work from that but add some more nasty stuff into the mix, especially striking. Here’s one of the things we worked on, the circle drag:


A couple of points about this:

  • Like I said in the beginning, this is a very specific type of training. What we’re doing is exploring different possibilities. As in, “what would happen if you do the elbow snap on somebody with some training and the guy feels it coming?” A trained fighter has different reactions than somebody who hasn’t been in a fight since high school. So we spit-balled a bit and covered a lot of ground with this scenario here only one of the many possibilities.
  • One of the most instinctive ways to save your arm when it’s about to be locked out and then snapped, is to bend it quickly. In this specific situation, that gives me the underhook (at the elbow, not the shoulder) when I feel him retracting his arm. But before I go for it, I buy some time/space with a quick elbow to the chest or face. The face would be the better target but it might force you to loosen your grip on his arm, so I prefer to go for the chest (this is a personal choice, it’s not set in stone) because it’s closer by. If you don’t think the elbow to the chest hurts, I’ll gladly demonstrate in person. :-)
  • Once I get that underhook, I have to keep him controlled so he can’t counter as easily. Which is why I spin away while I use my other hand to slap/strike down (to do some additional damage  that slows him down) and grab his neck. Then I twist his arm a bit as I pull at his neck. This keeps him bent over and under pressure.
  • I immediately throw a lead knee to his face to keep him on the defensive. The rear knee is more powerful (and I’m not saying you can’t or shouldn’t use it) but speed is crucial here: if the guy is trained, you don’t want to give him even the smallest opening to counter you. In any case, once you throw the first knee, you can bring that leg back to launch the next strike so the point is moot.
  • Another instinctive reaction is to protect your face when somebody knees into it. As soon as I spot my opponent do this, I use the other knee (though you can use the same one too, it also works) to hit him with either a glancing blow or pass by his face altogether. Then I kick that leg back down while I yank his arm forward. This spins him and drops him in front of me.
  • Once there, you can pick: do an arm bar, control him, hit him, flip him over for more arm bars, stomp him, etc. The choice is yours.

Like I said, this is only one of the possibilities. There are many, many more. But we didn’t want to spend our training time filming everything so we only showed you one scenario. Don’t let that fool you into thinking there isn’t anything else.


Barry had access to some High Gear so we put that on to beat the crap out of each other throughout the week. For your viewing pleasure, we shot the same sequence again but with a little more impact. We’re both obviously still holding back. The High Gear isn’t meant for full force training, you can still get hurt that way. What it does is minimize the blows so you’re only hurting and not taking extensive damage. To give you an idea: after a dozen or so powerful elbows to the back of the head from Barry, it was time for me to either take a breather or drop to the floor unconscious.

Here’s what it looks like:

Some more stuff about this:

  • Because of the High Gear, it looks a little different. One reason is because we’re actually striking each other with some level of force. That makes it look less fluid.
  • It also looks like Barry is just standing there, letting me do the techniques. He’s not. We just chose to break things down a bit for the video so you can see and understand what is going on. If I stop talking and explaining in-between techniques, I can speed it up just fine… :-)
  • Like Barry says at the end, we’re still not doing full-on training. The defender gets to strike a bit harder, true, but the attacker is letting him do it. The next phase of the training would have the attacker keep on fighting after the first move.

Like I said in the beginning, we covered a lot more stuff than just this. Some of it was radically different from what you can see in these videos. But they do give you a little bit of a peek into the training we did. I hope you enjoyed it.


Before I forget, The Honey Badger, Deedeedee and Borat were the themes of the week while I was there. So if you’re wondering about the ending of both videos, this is what we were joking about:




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  1. Nice to see one technique broken down, explained, and then done with a bit more force with the High Gear stuff. Would be interesting to see the next of the training. Good stuff!

  2. Iain Kelly says

    Great videos. Thanks. I’m a big fan of Barry’s books, and your blog.

    Great stuff!

  3. I will be looking for this sequence in one of Mr. Rains next adventures… very cool stuff.

  4. Not being a woman, I cannot say I love you, however, I may say it is brilliant! I’m talking about first clip, of course.

    Over the years I was thinking about that issue with a head turned to the side while kicking in Saifa kata (it’s Goju-ryu) and here I see the perfect bunkai and very reasonable reason (if I may to speak so) why! Thank you, sensei (and thanks Barry for taken punishment).

    By the way, I know you are not from Goju-ryu so I wonder where did you get that combination with leg hooking a head from? The reason I am asking is that Saifa (along with Kururumfa) is kind off of the “style” in Goju-ryu. While your fellows (Chinese) have taught my fellows (Okinawans), it might be possible to find out where Miyagi got that (it is sometimes attributed to his teacher Higashionna but the latter did not teach these two katas).

    Thanks again!

    • Glad to hear you liked the video, thanks. Feel free to spread the link to the post and share the wealth. :-)

      As for Goju, no idea. I have zero training in that style so I can’t comment on its bunkai . I saw the leg hook in an obscure Chinese Southern style (totally blanking on the name) first and later on in Setia Hati Terate Silat. I’m not sure if other Silat styles use it also but they probably do as there’s so much interaction between Indonesian styles.
      To the best of my knowledge, there’s no link to Goju. But that only means I don’t know of one, not that there isn’t one.

      My 2 cents…

      • Obscure Chinese Southern style sounds perfectly OK, knowing the history and all that later muddy situation during all instabilities of the end of 19th century in Fujian province, too. It is a pity you don’t remember the name of that Chinese style as it could be a link somehow. Oh, well… :)

        Thank you once again!

        • I think it was a family system of dog boxing but don’t quote me on that. It’s been well over 20 years since I saw it so I could be totally off the mark here.

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