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.