Posts Tagged ‘Combat’

I’m a firm believer in the idea that it’s the most basic skills you learn that prove to be the most effective. This is especially true in the martial arts. Often, the most basic, low-level, white belt techniques are the ones with the highest success rates and the greatest efficiency of strength and stamina. Though every martial art is different in their approach to the basics, and some instructional systems take longer to teach them than others or perhaps don’t teach them quite so well, this is almost a universal constant in well-developed, mature fighting styles.

As a matter of fact, I have been taking this idea to heart over the past year. I am a sort of hoarder of martial arts instructional materials. Books, videos, magazines, and web sites. I love it all. I used to pour over anything labeled “black belt techniques”. But about a year ago, I competed at the NAGA tournament in Salt Lake City, Utah. I finished in second place in both gi and no-gi, and I knew it was my proficiency with the most basic techniques (or lack thereof), not the intermediate or advanced, that determined my performance. It was, of course, my first time competing, and so my performance could also be explained by nerves, inefficient energy usage, and immature strategies. But my need to revisit the most basic techniques was the lesson that most stood out to me.

So for the past year that’s exactly what I did. I drilled only the most basic techniques. Of course I did whatever my instructor told me to, but when I was doing my own private training, and when I rolled with my training partners, I tried to make the basics work best for me. And several things happened. I saw a dramatic improvement in my performance against all belt ranks. The basics, it appears, do not just work on the white belts. I also started to develop my own personal style. I discovered my game (turns out, I favor heavy stacking passes, scarf hold, and s-mount), which is totally different than I’d imagined myself having. Last of all my I grew in my confidence in my own fighting ability.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a white belt still struggling to earn your first stripe, or a black belt looking to elevate yourself to the highest levels of competition. I highly recommend mastering your basic techniques and strategies until you can do them without thinking. Below is a video showing one of my most favored techniques, the Trap and Roll, the most basic escape from the mount position. I’ve practiced this one until I could pull it off on almost every other student in my class, and I’ve discovered another thing: much of your success with this technique depends on your timing, often early, just as your opponent passes into the mount and before he bases out.

What basic techniques should every martial artist know?

One of the great martial arts discussions of our generation is that of sport-oriented martial arts training vs. self-defense or “street” oriented training. Many people feel strongly one way or the other and have developed some compelling arguments for both. Since this is a big thing for Jiu-jitsu practitioners as well, I decided to share this video from the Gracies on the subject.

I found this a thoughtful video, especially the idea that self-defense is a collection of principles more than simply a list of techniques. As for my take on things, I believe martial arts sports competitions act as a laboratory, experimenting on and discovering new combat principles in a controlled environment that can be further applied in real combat. Competition is also a powerful motivator for training and constant improvement. The root purpose of martial arts training, however, is combat survival. A competition that does not imitate some conditions of real combat, at least in part, are probably less helpful. One example might be point sparring matches, where the fighting is interrupted to award points to competitors for landing strikes. While fun and athletic challenging, I have found the rules to be too limiting to encourage applicable martial skills. I think the sports should mimic real fighting, though I am not opposed to rules for safety.

Self-defense training, on the other hand, sometimes runs the risk of not being competitive enough. I’ve attended plenty of self-defense classes where the students were told not to spar since they were taught to fight dirty. As a result, many of these students lacked the muscle memory and the instinct to conduct themselves in a confrontation that extends beyond the initial exchange of blows. The ability to switch on the instinctual, combative “auto-pilot” can only be developed in actual fights or unscripted sparring sessions, which cannot reasonably be conducted without safety rules.

In short, I believe martial artists need a mixture of both sport and self-defense training to remain combat proficient. The proportions of that mixture, I believe, should be based on individual need and preference.

Which do you prefer, sports training or self-defense training?

The only thing harder than becoming a good fighter, in my opinion, is making a good fighter. Training other people takes a higher amount of artistry and understanding of the art than being taught. I think this is the defining characteristic of the martial arts. Martial arts is not so much about fighting as it is about teaching someone how to fight. This is where we get creative little labels for stances, techniques, and positions, such as horse stance, leopard’s  paw, tiger claw, and so on. It’s about seeing significant patterns in how a fight is conducted and won and explaining that pattern to others. It’s also about finding new solutions to complex problems. Fighting is, after all, a form of problem solving.

So that brings us to today’s challenge. I want you to watch a video. It’s not inspirational, professional, funny (or not meant to be, anyway), or even all that interesting. It’s footage of an amateur MMA match in Canada, and the fighters are, shall we say, inexperienced? For those of you who’ve taught martial arts before, it might just make you cringe. Here it is:


Now that you’ve seen it, here’s my question: what would you have taught either one of these fighters to win this fight? Assume you had only a little time to train them, say a month or two. What do you think would have benefited them most in this particular match? Be specific, and try not to use blanket terms like “how to fight”.

I will say without apology that the skill levels represented in this video are horrendous, but I still have respect for the two young men who stepped into that cage. It’s more than I’ve done, and it takes courage to face someone on such an equal playing field like they did.

My personal answer: this was a match between two very inadequate strikers. I would have taught either one of them the most basic ground fighting strategies. Close the distance, body fold takedown, pass the guard, mount, ground and pound. Submissions would be hard with those gloves on, so I would simply drill some heavy-handed punches from the top of the mount, side mount, and rear mount. I would keep the list of techniques short and drill them over and over and over again against live, resisting opponents. I think that kind of training would have given either fighter an immediate advantage in this fight.

How would you have prepared either fighter for this fight?

Martial arts culture is full of rivalries and dichotomies: traditional training vs. sport training, eastern arts vs. western arts, hard vs. soft. The list goes on. One rivalry, however, is one I’d eventually like to see put to rest. I’m talking about strikers vs. grapplers. In my mind, striking techniques and grappling techniques are but tools for achieving an objective. I began my martial arts training in the striking arts: Kenpo, Karate, and Taekwondo. Now I train Gracie Jiu-jitsu. Very seldom did these two different strategies meet for me in class, but now I see a little of one in the other can make a good fighter great.
Since I usually talk about the many virtues of Jiu-jitsu, I want to point out the incredible usefulness and versatility of strikes. I do agree that grappling is more appropriate for all levels of violence, since grappling techniques can be as gentle as they are effective. Strikes, however, are useful tools for opening opportunities, disrupting your opponent’s movements, and causing some quick, obvious damage. This is assuming, of course, that your opponent has become assaultive, and you are legally justified in hitting him.
Striking has so many great uses besides simply knocking someone out. One is to simply cause your opponent to move. Throwing jabs and crosses at your opponent’s face, for example, can cause him to cover his face with his hands and even change his posture, thus making him easier to approach and grapple. Mounting your opponent and striking him from above can, besides causing him to surrender, force him to raise his arms in defense, opening the way for an armbar or a shoulder lock.
Strikes can also cause your opponent to hesitate, stumble, or otherwise abandon their intended movement. Is he rushing towards you with his fist raised, ready to strike? A simple push kick to his leg or hip can stop his movement dead in its tracks, or even cause him to stumble and fall. Is he trying to grab your groin when you’ve mounted him (don’t laugh, we’re all adults here!)? A simple elbow to his face, even if it doesn’t connect, can convince him that such an exchange would not be in his favor.
I like how many things you can achieve through a little blunt force trauma. I’ve never been confident in knockout strategies. Knockouts are harder to get than most people think. As a grappler, however, I highly value any tactic that can help me close the distance with my opponent or illicit a predictable reaction from them. Though Gracie Jiu-jitsu takes up the bulk of my training, I sometimes pull out the target mitts and drill a few combos and my footwork.
Grapplers: how do you incorporate striking into your training?
Strikers: how do you incorporate grappling into your training?

Recently a New Jersey mom was cooking breakfast when a man broke in through her locked back door and began to savagely beat her in front of the woman’s 3-year-old daughter. Please watch the video below:


As martial artists and self defense practitioners, it is our business (and likely our moral responsibility, considering our training) to consider this footage and examine these circumstances. How did the assailant behave? What were the strategies and tactics employed? What were his goals? Also consider the environment. How did the setting of this assault affect the progression and outcome of events? Which objects were present that could have been used to make a difference? What training could this woman have had to help her prevent this from happening?

In other words: how could martial arts training have helped this woman?

I want your honest analysis. I would appreciate your assessment of the circumstances as they occurred, as well as your proposal for training that could have helped the situation. Here’s mine:

  • The attack occurred in a home furnished with large furniture, which may have hindered some movement. The attack initially occurred in the kitchen, where I assume there was an abundance of weapons of opportunity.
  • The assailant was larger and physically stronger than his victim. He appeared to be unarmed and to have little or no combat training. He employed the universal fight plan, overwhelming his victim with inefficient strikes until she was immobilized. It appeared his goal was to incapacitate her so he could rob the home undisturbed.
  • The victim was a woman of medium height and medium build. She was not so small that fighting back would not have been an option for her. She had little or no combat training. She employed instinctive, but inefficient defenses against the attacker’s strikes. With her daughter present, she was unable to escape quickly.

Conclusion: This woman, with the right training and preparation, could and should have fought back. The presence of her daughter made simple escapes slow and dangerous. It also made the attack all the more dangerous, since the daughter could potentially have become a victim as well. Ground fighting training, especially bottom positions with defense against strikes, could have reduced the injury she received during the assault. I also would recommend training in weapons of opportunity, since the kitchen was likely filled with utensils and other small objects that could have been used to great effect. Firearm training could also have been very beneficial, though she would have had to fight to get to it. Either way, dedicated self-defense training could have changed the outcome of this assault. She could have injured her attacker and delayed him enough to escape with her daughter.

Please share your assessment of this scenario. How will you train yourself and others to prevent this sort of thing from happening?

A lot of people like to argue about which of all martial arts styles is the best, “best” meaning “most effective” most of the time in those arguments. Never heard this argument before? Go to YouTube, look up a self defense video, and proceed to the comments section below. It’ll be there. The hard part about this argument is, of course, that fighting is a form of complex problem solving, the complex problem in most cases being interpersonal violence. And, like most complex problems, violence has many possible answers whose effectiveness is hard  to quantify or measure. That is why, I believe, martial arts can be considered arts. Just like there are many ways to paint a portrait, there are many ways to navigate the progression of violent acts from an opponent. Hence so many martial arts styles.

There are a few, however, that stand apart from all other styles. These are the combat forms and martial arts of armed forces. These are the martial arts practiced by those who regularly experience combat on its grandest scale. The most notable of these arts is MCMAP, or the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program. It is a heavily researched, well formulated program that tries to instill in every marine far more than simple hand to hand combat techniques. It is also the military combat training system most recognizable as a martial art, complete with a colored belt rank system. This program, I believe, is head and shoulders above all other military martial arts styles, not only for its physical training aspects, but for its mental and character emphasis as well. Their challenge is unique and daunting: to produce warriors who are not only unafraid to run towards the sounds of gunfire and engage the enemy at any range, but also capable of functioning as emotionally and mentally healthy members of the societies which they protect.

Physically, MCMAP is everything you could hope for in a combat-ready martial art. It emphasizes the use of strikes, grappling, arrest techniques, disarms, and a dizzying array of modern and improvised weaponry. It ties seamlessly into the principles of armed combat, so marines are able to switch between armed and unarmed techniques without hesitation. It is a flexible art that trains marines to be as lethal or non-lethal as is most appropriate for the situation.  Marines are more than just killers, after all, and regularly deploy on peacekeeping and humanitarian missions.

More impressive to me, however, is the fact that the Marine Corps tries to instill moral values and intellectual lessons into their warriors as part of their martial arts program. To sum it all up in a few words, these lessons of moral accountability and warrior tradition are called the warrior ethos. In an article in The Marine Corps Gazette, Andrew Lubin explains what the warrior ethos is.

“The warrior ethos is a code of conduct… that embodies a life where integrity, loyalty, honor, and selflessness, and courage are one’s guide. Starting thousands of years ago with the hunters, these concepts evolved into the warrior societies where protection for the tribe was best achieved as a group working together. The rudimentary laws arising from the successful tribes evolved into the warrior ethos practiced by the Spartans and others where courage, cooperation, and acknowledging the strength of the group over that of the individual, enabled the tribe or the nation to survive.”

I often get skeptical when I’m presented with a list of pseudo-Asian philosophical values in a martial arts class, but the warrior ethos speaks to me. I think this is evidence that there are martial arts out there that are truly American, as opposed to distillations of Asian or Brazilian culture. I wish there were more civilian martial arts schools patterned after this program, complete with bayonet training and all!

How does the warrior ethos compare to the ethics taught in your martial arts training center?

You will likely have no idea what your opponent is capable of...

You will likely have no idea what your opponent is capable of…

I think a pattern is emerging on this blog, one in which I find something to disagree with and aggressively attack it with words. Hopefully it’s entertaining to read, but I also hope I can move on to other subjects soon. As a matter of fact, I was planning on writing something about the physical, mental, social, and spiritual benefits of martial arts training, but then I read this in Black Belt Magazine. It’s an article titled “Strengths and Weaknesses of 5 Popular Grappling Arts” by Tony Salzano. It’s an article about how to defeat various types of grappling practitioners in a fight. Here’s an excerpt:

The basic strategy of the Brazilian jiu-jitsu stylist is to mount or submit his opponent — by outlasting him, if necessary. He’s almost always superbly conditioned aerobically (to endure a long fight) and muscularly (to prevent the buildup of lactic acid in the muscles when clinching for eternity). He generally is very patient, slim and smart, and often described as “unbelievable on the ground.”

His weaknesses include the fact that he usually trains and fights while wearing a uniform. Without it, he has no extra “handles” on his opponent and loses the ability to execute many chokes. His standing techniques, including takedowns and striking, are often weak.

Secret: Overpower him in the first moments of a fight. Don’t stay in his guard. Use techniques that are illegal in his type of competition: low strikes, groin attacks, etc. Whatever you do, don’t try to beat him at his own game, for then you will be the underdog.

On one hand, this is full of compliments. I can never scoff at a nod to my superbly conditioned, muscularly body. On the other hand, I have quite a few problems with this, and so I must respectfully disagree with Mr. Salzano. I don’t even want to argue much with this articles assertions of what a Jiu-jitsu practitioner can and cannot do well. I want to talk about the reasons why this article is unhelpful to a martial artist preparing for real-world violent encounters.

Reason #1: This article assumes you know your opponent is a Jiu-jitsu practitioner before the fight begins. How do you know? Did you ask him before you started fighting him? Mr. Salzano presents an unlikely scenario in which you are beginning a fight out of grappling range and with previous knowledge of your opponent’s training history. Such conditions are usually only present in combat sporting events, like MMA matches. If it’s a classic self defense scenario, let’s call it a bar fight, you’re likely not going to know he is a BJJ stylist until he’s successfully closed the distance, taken you to the ground, and asserted some sort of dominant position on you. By then it’s a little late to prevent takedowns. However, it could be a fight resulting from an argument over martial arts, in which case he might have told you exactly what his discipline was. I guess it is plausible, right?

Reason #2:  This article assumes all practitioners of a single martial art will fight in the same way. Being a Jiu-jitsu practitioner doesn’t mean you’re necessarily going to use Jiu-jitsu in the fight. Many Jiu-jitsu practitioners have backgrounds in different martial arts, and may default to strategies other than grappling in a fight. Even if they do use Jiu-jitsu strategies in the fight, which Jiu-jitsu strategies? Standing submissions? Escape and evasion? Clinching? It will depend on each individual fighter. Though the image of a fighter immediately pulling guard and going for the armbar is a popular sign of Jiu-jitsu training, it’s not what every practitioner of the art is trained to do. So even if you did know the guy was a grappler, you’d still be taking a big risk assuming you could predict his every intention. He’s trying to win the fight, too. Regardless of training, he’ll do what he has to in order to win. Even things not strictly considered Jiu-jitsu.

Reason #3: This article leads you to believe that dirty fighting is a reliable solution to the problem. Can a groin shot or an eye gouge or a finger break end a fight? Maybe. Just remember, he might use those tactics, too. But anyone who’s used dirty fighting in more than a few fights can tell you right away that kicking someone in the groin doesn’t always work. And even if it did, is it justified? Believe it or not, law enforcement will eventually become involved if you get into a brawl in a bar or on the street, and if they do you will be accountable for everything you did. Was this Jiu-jitsu guy’s assault so threatening to your well being that you could lawfully gouge an eye or break a finger? If not, how do you deal with him, since dirty fighting tactics tend to be so brutal they’re usually only justifiable when you’re at risk of serious injury? I tell you this, punching someone in the throat over a simple shoving match is ethically wrong and can land you in hot water with the law. So without dirty tactics, how do you defeat him?

There are more reasons why this is probably an unreliable strategy against Jiu-jitsu fighters, and any Jiu-jitsu instructor could probably tell you what they are. These three reasons, however, are the ones I believe are most important to people learning to defend themselves. So how do you fight against a Jiu-jitsu practitioner? It all starts with your training. Train yourself to adapt to various violent situations, and spar against live opponents. Be well rounded. Learn to adapt to the situation at hand, and it will matter little what style your opponent is using. That means, of course, that there are no magical answers for defeating an opponent of a specific type. The better prepared, better trained, more adaptable fighter will have the advantage in any exchange, regardless of the martial arts history of his opponent. Only luck will change that, and that is something you have no control over. So keep training, keep adapting, and try to get into as few unregulated fights as possible.

If you wish to read the rest of Mr. Salzano’s article, you can find it here.

How do you prepare to fight against martial artists of different backgrounds?