Saturday, May 26, 2012

Bad Habits in the Martial Arts - Part I


It could be one of the most common poor practices I see in martial arts today.  Chances are you do it, occasionally at least.  I know I still do it from time to time, although I’m trying to quit…

This bad habit isn’t confined to any one art; it’s across the board, prevalent and persistent.    

It’s the bad practice of tailoring attacks to fit the defense. 

Dangerous and unrealistic, yet it creeps into our day-to-day martial arts practice, often unrealized.


Truly, I think it has innocent beginnings.  It doesn’t start out as the insidious entity that it becomes.  It is born of basic practice on the mechanics of a technique.  When you are first learning, you do so from a set number of attacks.  A wrist grab or lapel grab is used to teach an arm bar, for example. This is a good thing.  As time goes on, however, you need to learn how to adapt a technique, or select a different one, if your opponent doesn’t grab ‘right’.  Often, without even realizing it, we re-set our attacker.  We make them adjust their attack to fit our planned defense.

I think we can all think of a time when a new student attacked you ‘wrong’.  You asked for a punch and they didn’t step in with the correct foot, or you asked for a grab and they grabbed backwards.  We patiently explained that they needed to correct their attack.  Then we wowed them with our knowledge and ability to respond with perfect technique.

Now, it should be mentioned that there is some merit to correcting an ‘incorrect’ attack.  There are certain commonalities that are important to know about real and committed attacks.  Most follow a pattern to a degree.  Not many people throw an uncommitted straight punch at you that stops several inches too short (not many actually ever throw a straight punch, but that’s another topic). 

Correcting a student so that they throw or apply a technique that would actually land and/or do damage is a good practice.

Not figuring out what to do with a committed attack that is done ‘wrong’ is a bad practice.  Combat is unpredictable.  People do bizarre, unanticipated things.  In fact, untrained fighters can sometimes be the most dangerous opponents, as they don’t follow any of the ‘rules’ when it comes to attacking.

I did a couple posts on Aikido recently.  Working on the posts, I ended up watching a whole bunch of associated videos on YouTube. 

Aikido has some bad habits.  Many of the attacks are initiated from an imagined sword attack, with the attacker’s hand held as if it was holding a sword handle, sort of like a lazy downward chop.

I appreciate that Aikido was partially developed with this scenario in mind, and that’s great, but you are less likely to face a sword this days than in feudal times.

Beyond this example, which could be defended by applying it to an offender that might be armed with a bat, baton, bottle, or stick, there are other bad habits.

Take the grab. 

Grabs do occur, so I have no issues with practicing defenses against them.  What should be remembered though, is that grabs are not typically done just for the sake of grabbing; they are being used to do something else.  Usually, it’s a grab and pull, or a grab and strike.  It is part of a larger picture, a means to a nasty end.  To just have your opponent grab your wrist and hold it is not a productive exercise.

When I watch some Aikido demonstrations, I see an outstretched hand and arm being offered to the attacker, often at a specific angle.  The attacker grabs the proffered limb or joint and is subsequently sent for a ride, tossed about effortlessly by the demonstrator.

What I don’t see is the nefarious intent on the part of the attacker.  And the attack is static.  They simply grab the offered limb, and that’s it.  No pulling, no strike attempt.  They run around reaching for the fully extended hand. It's pretty clear that grabbing a hold of that hand or wrist is their end game.  If the person demonstrating did nothing, I'm pretty sure the 'attacker' would just end up frozen with their own arm outstretched, shocked that they had actually caught that illusive rabbit...

Who the heck would ever do this?  This is not an attack you will face.  That’s why it’s a problem.

A similar thing happens in Kali/Escrima.  When you watch two knife or stick fighters engaging in a demonstration or practice, quite often you realize they are fighting using the same ‘rule book’.  The attack, parry, counter attack all follow a certain flow, a certain stance is maintained, as is the distance between one another.  What happens if someone breaks the rules?  Well, they either get cut (a very real possibility) or they might end up landing a good strike or cut on their opponent since they broke rhythm.  Just as with my Aikido examples, I'm not saying that these drills don't have some value.  They improve hand eye coordination, timing, breathing and all that, but the drills, in and of themselves, do not necessarily denote combat ability, or applicability.  If you don't move beyond the set-pattern style of practice, you are selling yourself short.

Watching one video led to watching lots of videos. A video on Aikido led to one on Kali which led to one on Karate, then Ninjutsu, then Jiu Jitsu, and so on and so forth.

I kept seeing the same thing.  My own beloved Jiu Jitsu is by no means exempt from these bad habits. 
Now, as far as demonstrations go, I do understand that there is a certain degree of showmanship involved and you must take into account the safety of the uke (he/she receiving the technique) as well, so I dug a bit deeper.

I started finding clips recorded by students in dojos, clips on self defense websites, blogs etc.

Suffice to say, the problem of tailoring an attack to fit a defense is widespread.  When you look for it, you'll see it.

In Part II, I'll look at some things we can do to fix this problem.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Grappling vs. Striking or The Perils of Punching...

This post was originally going to be called Grappling vs. Striking.  Now it's sort of 'morphed' into a combination of two topics.  As often happens, the process of writing takes on a life of it's own, and a vague idea or point that's been bouncing around in the back of my head starts to come into focus. 

So, for the purpose of this next paragraph making sense, imagine the title was

'Grappling vs. Striking'

What’s better for self-defense?  Type this question into Google and you’ll find a plethora of opinions on the topic.  People have very strong opinions on the matter.

Of course, both have advantages and disadvantages.  It is also important to note that neither type of art exists in isolation of the other.  There are no ‘only’ striking arts, nor are the ‘just’ grappling arts which have no striking whatsoever.

I would consider Jiu Jitsu more a grappling/locking art, and Karate more of a striking art, for example.  Of course, Jiu Jitsu has a robust set of punches, kicks and various other strikes, and Karate has a whole bunch of locks, takedowns, some throws or body drops, etc.

It’s the thought behind it, or the purpose of it, that can differentiate the two types of arts somewhat.  What is the goal of the action?  The intended outcome?  The focus?

For the most part, I operate in the ‘in-close’ range.  I like to have my hands on ya.  This is the area where Jiu Jitsu people work best.  As such, many of my strikes and kicks are used to ‘get it’.  They are a means to an end.  The goal is to create an opening to move in and finish the encounter. 

This isn’t to suggest that I don’t hope that my strike or kick doesn’t end the fight.  Quite the opposite.  I’d love to end one with a well placed strike.  I just don’t assume that’s going to happen.  I don't train thinking striking is my end game.  I also don’t assume that my first in-close technique is guaranteed to work either.  I just have more options from the inside, options that work for me.

A talented striker is a formidable opponent.  Those who study primarily striking arts can get very very good at what they do.  That’s why I do my best not to strike with a striker, box with a boxer etc.

The goal for most strikers is to end the fight using strikes, usually punches.  If they are too focused on this as the end goal, they may be limiting their options.  If they train solely to strike, if the strikes aren't working, ore they get injured, all they have to fall back on is more strikes.  And if strikes aren't working, confidence drops and hesitation sneaks in.  And hesitation can be disastrous.  

Which brings me to my net point.

The Perils of Punching

Punching, while always an important part of my training, has some risks that should be examined.

One of the first things I learned about striking with the hands was the hard-to-soft rule.  If you are striking a hard surface, use a soft strike (meaning open hand).  If you are striking a soft surface, use a hard strike (closed fist).  So, head = hard, so use open hand.  Stomach = soft, so use closed fist.

Not only is this more effective (in general), it also stops you from breaking your hands.  Many a pugilist has broken their hands delivering a strike.  The fist can be a powerful thing, but it can also be quite fragile.

Another factor that must be considered if you like to spend a lot of time in striking range is:

The DFL Factor

DFL stands for dumb f’n luck.  From my experience, if the encounter isn’t ended at the outset within the first blow or two, the advantage given to the experienced striker seems to dwindle and the longer it goes, the higher the chance of the DFL factor kicking in.  The inexperienced striker, often throwing erratic and wild swings, increases their chances of getting in a ‘lucky’ swing and taking out the more experienced combatant. 

Also, successful street knockouts or ‘fight enders’, are not too common.  They do happen, of course, but often even a trained fighter o' the fists can’t drop their opponent, even if they completely outclass them with their fighting ability.

Check out the following video which I feel illustrates my point nicely.  I pulled this off one of Brett’s posts at his blog Kyokushin Karate Blog.  His post here.

Clearly the security officer had some serious striking experience.  He did a beautiful block near the start and outclassed the other guy in all his combinations.  The other guy was wildly swinging away and should have been dropped near the start, but that didn’t happen.  The fight just kept going on. 

Now, there’s no way to know for sure what would have happened if the fight had not been interrupted, but DFL may very well have reared it’s ugly head.  Or not.  Who knows?  My point is that the fight continued for an uncomfortable amount of time.  The longer any fight goes, the greater the chance of something unanticipated happening.  (Like having your gun grabbed, but thats' a topic for another day)

You drastically increase your chances of prevailing in a violent encounter if you can end it quickly.  You also greatly reduce the chances of being seriously injured.

Most no-rules street fights don’t end with good clean strikes.  In fact, most people’s striking skill degrades rapidly when engaged in a real violent encounter.  There seems to be a return to a more desperate style of swinging seen in non-trained fighters.   

When the stakes are high and the adrenaline is coursing through their veins, all but the most disciplined fighters will revert to a more instinctual, basic style of full arm swinging strikes.  I suspect this is ingrained in us on a deeper animal level. Interestingly, it's also the way young children hit, before they 'learn' how to strike.  

I watched a video where a giant boxer decided he didn’t want to be arrested and fought with an officer, a man about half his size.  The struggle went around the police car, the two disengaged, and reengaged, the officer tried using non-lethal use of force options, the big boxer chased him around, the officer shot him...  What stuck me was how quickly the profession boxer's strikes went from focused and tight to messy and looping.  And how it went to grabbing and tackling.  The real stress of no rules combat made him revert back to a simpler, more gross motor skill-based style of attack.

Here's the video, I gave it the preface as it's only playing intermittently.  

Real fights get messy.  When the swing-fest ends, bodies get close, people usually get grabbed.  Many go to the ground, but not always in the way some ground fighting and BJJ players might have you believe.

It’s for this reason that I’m a proponent of moving in.  If I use a strike, it’s usually to achieve this goal.  My strikes will most often be part of my ‘crashing in’ theory on combat entry.  

If I’m against a talented striker, I’ll cover up as much as I can to reduce my chances of getting knocked out.  Then I’ll crash in, using my elbows, forearms, knees or head, or a combination thereof, to get to the inside.  From there I’ll go to work on whatever target presents itself.  Usually a joint lock, sometimes short strikes, sometimes take downs or throws etc.  The entry strikes are meant to disrupt the incoming attack, change the attackers mindset, and to overwhelm their senses temporarily.  

There are, of course, risks to this approach as well, like, err, getting knocked out.  

They are measured risks, though, and they're ones I'm willing to take.  This method also works extremely well for situations when you are spontaneously attacked.  For those times you may have registered an incoming attack or threat, but there hasn't been enough time to identify exactly what kind of attack it is. Sort of your best 'one size fits most' type of scenario.

So there you have it, a bit of a two-for-one special.  I'll never stop training in punching, but I strive to have every technique I practice open up a series of options.  I never want to rely on just one type of training style.  Everything you do should:

1. Reduce your chances of injury
2. Improve your position
3. Worsen their position

Clearly, the best techniques do all three.  Does engaging in a strike-fest accomplish these goals?  That's the question we should be asking ourselves, the measuring stick we need to use.  And this doesn't just apply to striking, it's a test that should be applied to all our martial training.

Food for thought.  

I'd also like to welcome my new followers.  I hope I don't disappoint.  Thanks for joining me on my journey.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Warrior - The Movie

I'm not on a movie kick but I recently watched the movie Warrior.  If you haven't seen it, watch it.  It's a movie with MMA but it's not a MMA movie.  It's an excellent movie with powerful performances.  It will also appeal to non martial arts fans.  Just watch it.  'nuff said.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Salt - The Movie - Fight Scenes

Movie fighting.

The movie ‘Salt’ was playing the other night on television.  It’s a movie starring Angelina Jolie and is filled with spies, intrigue and action.

I’m not going to provide a review of the movie itself, but I did quite enjoy it.  I was pleasantly surprised by the movie as I don’t really see Angelina as much of an action star.

One of the reasons is that she is very thin, almost frail looking in my opinion.  It’s tough for me to see that type of person as someone capable of beating up lots of big strong bad guys.

This is where she surprised me in Salt.  I found myself watching and re-watching the fight scenes, as many of us martial viewers tend to do.

She pulled it off.  The fight scenes took into account her slight stature.  Her moves involved whole body movement for power generation, and lots of circular technique utilized to gain momentum and force.  There was great use of elbows, low kicks and big weapons (i.e. entire forearm).  It also sure looked like she put a lot of effort into the attacks. 

It was some of the best fighting I’ve seen with a female character.  Some of it was over the top, but I couldn’t help but think that most of it could have actually worked, especially on much bigger opponents.  I loved the fact that whoever the fight choreographers were, they had taken into account what a person of that height, weight and gender could potentially pull off.  The ‘dossier’ of her character included training in hand-to-hand combat and the scenes supported what we got to see watching the movie.  

Angelina worked on a combination of Muay Thai and Krav Maga for her character, a deliberate choice to take into account her frame.  Good for her and those she worked with. I also like the fact that the slightest tap didn't knock out her opponent as is often seen in movies featuring fight scenes.

I’m enjoying the fact that more movies are including more realistic fight scenes and featuring different martial arts.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say they’re ultra-realistic since real fighting is ugly and messy, but it’s come a long way.  

Movie:     3.5/5 stars
Fighting:  4.0/5 stars

Warning:  It’s not a movie for kids, there’s some fairly graphic violence and disturbing scenes.

Here's the trailer from when it was released.  Unfortunately I couldn't find any clips involving just her fight scenes that didn't ruin plot lines.

If anyone has seen the movie, I'd like your feedback.