Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Happy Holidays

Merry Christmas and happy holidays to everyone.  During such a crazy time of year, I hope you've all found a few wonderful moments.

And as always, thanks to all who comment, follow, or just pop by from time to time for a read.

My best to you and your loved ones,


Thursday, December 22, 2011


Things have been pretty crazy for me lately and I've found it challenging to post regularly.  I just wanted to say thanks for your patience and I'll be posting more again soon.  And I also wanted to say thanks to all of you for posting quality material.  I may not always have a chance to comment, but I'm always reading and there's been a lot of great stuff lately.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Getting a bit punchy

The punch.  I can't think of any martial art that doesn't work on punching.  Many martial artists practice it for a lifetime, perfecting it's every nuance.

A punch is an interesting thing.  It's kind of instinctual.  Balling up your fists and hitting someone emerges as a natural consequence of anger and frustration in the early years of life.  Now, very young children seem to keep an open hand and have full arm swing movement when they "attack".  Smart for power generation and protecting the hands, but pretty easy to see coming.  After that, it's 'fists-a-flying'.

Some will argue and say that a proper punch is anything but easy.  In some ways, I agree, in others I don't.  Take a person who has never taken a martial art.  Ask them to do a four corner throw, or an arm bar, or a joint lock.  They will struggle and have to be shown.  Ask for a punch, chances are they'll be able to do a half decent one right off the bat.

I've been questioning the effectiveness of the punch.  Scratch that, I've been questioning how much time I should be spent practicing the punch.

I've been working out with a boxer off and on over the last several months.  He is a tried and true striker.  Well that's not entirely accurate either, since he's now expanding his study into Jiu Jitsu.

At first, I was a little bit intimidated by his punching ability.  They were crisp, fast, and usually part of a flurry of strikes.  Over time, though, I've found ways to work around his fists of fury.  First off, I don't box with a boxer.  Once I got over trying to go toe to toe with him, I could move back into my comfort zone, and started finding openings.  The punches that I throw are rarely meant on their own to be knock out blows.  I use them to distract and 'get in' on my opponent.  What I learned with the boxer was that the actual quality of my punch didn't matter nearly as much as how I was using it.  Used properly, a poor punch still created an opening for me to move in and go to work.

This got me looking at the punch more closely.  In a real confrontation, how many punches actually land, and of those, how many land where they were intended?  And for those that did land as intended, how many were fight enders?  We're conditioned watching sport fighting to expect the punch to be the tool that ends most matches.  Highlight reels are full of spectacular knock outs.  Yes, they can happen, but they're much more likely to occur in a ring than in a dark alley or parking lot.

What's also likely to happen is that you're going to break your hands in a bare knuckle fight.  Even professional boxers break their hands in fights when the gloves come off.  The hands contain too many breakable parts.  Small errors on angles, arm position and striking surface can cause injury.  What happens then if a weapon comes into play?  Can you still use your hands?  Did you de-fang your own snake?

My point is not to abandon striking and the punch.  I'm just questioning how much time I should spend practicing something that I can do fairly well with little or no practice, and something that is as rife with danger to the delicate structure of my hands.  And on top of that, are they really all that effective in the first place?  In my line of work, I've rarely come across situations where a punch or two ended things.  Quite frankly, most are fairly easy to get out of the way of unless you're standing face to face in a 'punch off'.

I know I'll never stop using or practicing punching.  What I may do is spend more time working on what comes next.  For me, a punch is a tool that leads to something else.  This stays in line with my belief that the first, second, and sometimes even third technique you try in a real fight probably won't work out as planned anyway, so I'm not going to put all my eggs in one, um...punch basket.


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Taking a Stance. Or not.

“Sink down”
“Knees over toes”
“One strike, one kill”

These are only a few of the things that have been drilled into me over the years when it comes to stances and stance work. 

I’ve been told stances should be the core of your martial repertoire, that it is the source of all your power.  It’s the foundation the house is built upon, that sort of thing.

Eventually, I programmed myself to always use deep, powerful stances.  This led to me having powerful technique.  There was no denying that.

Over time, I realized that while my technique was powerful, I only really got one shot at it.  I was sacrificing a great deal of mobility in the process.  If my first technique missed or didn’t work out as planned, I was very limited in my follow up.  I was essentially stuck in the deep stance and didn’t have a lot of options left. 

One of my theories on combat is that your first attempt at a technique probably isn’t going to work out as planned in a real confrontation (and sometimes your second, or even you third…). 

You must adapt, adjust and go with the flow.  For me, deep stances were hampering my ability to do so.  I had to ‘come back up’ to move on to my next technique.  Equally challenging was getting out of the way of incoming attacks with a moving opponent. 

I study an in close combat style of Jiu Jitsu, and most fights occur in this range.  Deep stances were creating distance between my body and my attackers.  This had the effect of actually hampering my ability to apply many non-striking techniques (joint locks, breaks, take downs, etc.).  They were also negating the advantage that my height gave me in certain situations.

In my opinion, the measure of how effective a martial art will be for real world application and survival is in its ability to create options.  The more you have, the higher the likelihood of emerging victorious, or at least in one piece.  I am willing to sacrifice a bit of power for a few more options and/or escape routes.

I have not abandoned stance work, of course.  Having a balanced stance is necessary for leverage, generating explosive force and for simply moving around and getting out of the way.  After all, Kuzushi (balance breaking), is a central component in most martial arts.  It most certainly is in Jiu Jitsu.

I now believe high stances are the most effective for most situations in real combat.  A proper high stance gives you decent power, good balance, speed, and high mobility.  It makes you more adaptable and gives you more options. 

There are still times where a deep powerful stance is beneficial, and some situations and techniques warrant their use, but in general, I opt for the flexibility of the higher stance. 

The mobility that a higher stance gives you reduces your need to meet force with force, something that has become more important the longer I have studied martial arts.  It is easier and safer to use your opponents speed and momentum against them, which is a central concept in the so called “gentle” arts.

Along this line of thought, it’s better to be like water than to meet force with force.  Water moves around, under or even over an obstacle, instead of meeting it head on.

The same applies to the example of the willow tree and the mighty oak.  In a violent storm, the rigid limbs of the mighty oak are often snapped and broken, unwilling to yield to the power of the elements.  The willow, however, yields, adjusts and moves, and by doing so, remains unscathed.

There are trade offs and advantages to both high and low stances.  It is about finding the balance of what works best for you and what provides the greatest chance of success in surviving a violent encounter.

Food for thought.