Breakaway Training and Skills – Time on Task Question

November 21, 2019

A mere 90 minutes of practice-time during one day of breakaway training?

Gerard O’Dea here, the Director of Training at Dynamis.   This schedule for one day of breakaway training in the image above caught my eye while I explored the ‘market’ today.  It shows that over one full day of breakaway and disengagement training for care staff, only 90 minutes is allocated for the practice of the physical disengagement strategies which are part of the training.

One of the objectives of the course is that staff will be able to: “Identify appropriate physical disengagements to reduce / manage risk behaviour”

21 techniques for Six Minutes each

Research from more than a decade ago (here and here for example) pointed to the need for a ‘fresh approach’ to Breakaway training which had been audited and explored by a number of serious professionals at that time.  One of the studies specifically addressed the issue of the amount of time which learners were being given to physically practice the disengagement techniques they were being taught.  Researchers found that in one day of breakaway training, the learners had a total practice time for 21 techniques of 134 minutes. That means that the mean average practice time for students per technique was six minutes and 22.86 seconds.

When I first saw that research, I knew that as a company, Dynamis needed to start working on newer, more evidence-based lines of training which would not fall into the trap of the 21-techniques for 6 minutes “trap” which the orthodox systems, many of them based on martial arts models (from people who had studied jujitsu in the 1950s) had established so long ago.

For that reason I know that for over ten years now, we have taught a very effective model of breakaway training which relies on the instinctive protective responses which are wired-in to the human body and which take minimal time for a learner to assimilate and which are retained well over time.

Time-On-Task is s Proxy for Learning

If anyone has been following the work we have been doing with Prof. Chris Cushion, then you will know that Time-On-Task is one of the analyses that he uses to get a picture of how good the learning environment has been set up for the achievement of proper learning.  When we look at instructor talk-time, for example, as compared to learner practice time, we can get an idea of how much time the learner is less engaged with the learning and the duration of time the learner is actively engaged with the activity.

He even suggested that trainers use a stopwatch so that they can objectively control the amount of time they are spending on a specific task, in this video where I asked him that question!

“The number one piece of kit that’s really inexpensive, I would say, would be a stopwatch because time on task is a proxy for learning and you need to be in control of time for a whole range of reasons. To maximize time on task, to limit the war stories, to manage transitions and breaks. If people are on training courses to learn to do something, it makes sense that they spend the most time learning to do something, not listening to somebody else talk about it or stand with their mates having a coffee or meandering from thing to thing. And the way that you control that is by timing it, so I’m going to work for five minutes, I’m going to time it for five minutes, we’re going to have a five minute (whatever it is), and have it on a stopwatch so you know exactly – because time slips away!” – Prof. Chris Cushion


Separation of the Key Verbal Skills from the Key Physical Skills?

One of the key issues that we have noted with many different types of training that we have served is that there seems to be a separation between the training of staff begin verbalisation skills and conflict management or deescalationAnd their training in the management of the physical skills and situations that they may have to, as a last resort, be effective with.  The verbal and physical skills form a continuum whereby a verbal interaction with somebody becomes a physical interaction with that same person and then often becomes a verbal interaction at the end also. However often we see that verbal skills are presented to staff in a vacuum, and physical skills are taught separately to staff perhaps even on another course at time which is remote from the verbal skills training.  This type of separation of those two activities doesn’t make sense though when one looks at how self protection and breakaway situations develop and how they progress.

Arguably in one full day of breakaway training the learners should be up and moving in the training room working on their verbalisation skills and the various breakaway skills they have to learn, for most of their time on that course.  Looking at the picture of the schedule above, it would seem that ‘practice’ of the target skills (and all-important feedback on that practice) is limited during the planned training.

I talked with veteran conflict management and breakaway skills trainer Gary Klugiewicz from Vistelar (for UK Trainer opportunities please see about this ‘meshing’ of the verbal and physical practices and the importance of “Fire Drills, not fire talks” on a video chat I had with him some time ago.

How can 90 minutes over one full day be the state of the art in providing breakaway and disengagement training? How can this programme produce robust learning…or is something else at work here?

Training which works.

At Dynamis we use an Evidence-Based Contextual Training Approach

With the help of academic colleagues at Loughborough University, we are continually developing enhanced learning design methodology which ensures that your training budget is spent on best-value activities.   Our training is therefore:

EMOTIONALLY SAFE – delivered in a supportive environment where effort and engagement are rewarded and in which failure is seen as a necessary step towards mastery of target content.

CONTEXTUALISED TO WORKPLACE SCENARIOS – focuses on exploring the complete picture of the most common flashpoint scenarios which are familiar to your team’s experience of the workplace.

PERFORMANCE-ORIENTED  your learners perform the target skills, often in the face of designed-in, desirable difficulties and receive immediate, objective feedback to improve their performance.

PRACTICE-BASED – your team are repeatedly faced with and engaged in work-like encounters and incidents on which their individual and team performance is assessed from multiple points-of-view.

FULL-SPECTRUM OF APPROPRIATE RESPONSES – incorporates positional, non-verbal, verbal, emotional, mental and physical attitudes required for a successful, professional response.

We specialise in a Contextualised, Practice-based Training Methodology which ensures that your learners are doing tasks which are as close as possible to their specified job role and daily tasks, while having opportunities to put new tactics and strategies into practice.

To learn about Maximising Training Effectiveness, a CPD programme for trainers who wish to incorporate current learning evidence into their training programmes, please visit:

To see what we do on our One Day Breakaway Training Course, please go to:


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Gerard O'Dea is the Director of Training for Dynamis. Training Advisor, Speaker, Author and Expert Witness on Personal Safety, Conflict Management and Physical Interventions, he is the European Advisor for Vistelar Conflict Management, a global programme focussing on the spectrum of human conflict.

Gerard O'Dea

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