Sunday, June 26, 2011

Mind the Gap - Part II

In Part I of this discussion, the gap or disconnect between the reality of violence and martial arts instruction was touched upon, as an overview.

There are many fantastic benefits of martial arts study such as fitness, fun, friendship, discipline, confidence etc.

My concerns and issues relate to pure, raw self defense applicability.

The first broad area I touched upon was techniques.  I don't feel that the actual mechanics of martial arts techniques are to blame.  Sure, there are some flowery moves that are pretty to watch and largely ineffective, but by and large, most techniques stand up.  They are the core course of study in most martial arts.  As long as they have been interpreted correctly, they work. And most of them have been around for awhile.  A long while.  Enough said.

Techniques work only if they are understood and you know how to apply them. This is the first gap.  Many people, teacher and students included, don't really understand how, or when, to use a technique.  Not only that, they do not understand what will happen to their opponent, or to them, once it is applied.

Too many techniques are taught in isolation.  They are static in nature.  The opponent, (uke), often doesn't move at you or resist your actions.  The start, or entry, into the technique essentially starts from nowhere.  Usually, both parties stand there, face to face, and a grab or attack begins.  No movement, no approach by either party.  This lack of movement can have a significant impact on the applicability of a response.  How often does a real encounter begin with two people standing calmly face to face?  Try any number of your techniques on a rapidly approaching individual and see how your response must change or adapt.  Even for those who do use some advancing movement in the initiation of attack, how often is the advance on an angle? from the side? from behind? from a rapid approach?  Run at your opponent next time and see what changes.

Next, it's important to understand what is going to happen to your opponent when you apply a technique. Are they going to collapse, fall backwards, lurch forward etc?  You need to know this so you don't end up off balance, or having your attacker crash into you.  Also, what's next?  Have you just made them tap?  Have your really improved your position?  Can you get away? Have you done enough to make yourself safe, or have you set yourself up for the next move?  You need to understand more than just how to put a technique on.  You need to understand the before, during and after effects of what you are doing.

When you apply a technique other than kicks and punches, while it's important for your opponent to tap, you should not immediately let go.  You should ease up and continue the motion to see it through to it's conclusion.  Stay in control of the individual.  In a real attack, it's unlikely your opponent will tap, and even if they do, that doesn't mean you let go.  You need to end up in a position of advantage where you can either continue on or disengage, depending on the circumstances.


I've seen people do disarms in real situations and start to hand the weapon back to the attacker, so programmed were they from their training. (did that sound a bit like Yoda?)

So don't let go when your opponent taps, just ease up.  The reason we tap in the martial arts is so we're not programmed to let go when someone yells out in pain or shouts stop!

In the next part, I'll discuss why it's just as important to learn how to attack as it is to defend.

Be safe.


  1. i once read an interview with a japanese judo instructor who refused to adapt his teaching to fit the paradigm of olympic success.... he felt the integrity of the art could be sacrificed by doing so...

  2. That's quite interesting. Although Judo was considered a 'safer' version of Jiu Jitsu in so much as it could be practiced at full power, it wasn't necessarily developed as sport. I'm met a few nasty (the good kind) of Judo players out there, and their material is anything but sport-like. Thanks.