Saturday, June 21, 2014
Yesterday one of my friends asked me about boxing. He has some ring experience, as do I, and he wanted to know if he should continue. I asked him what the purpose was. he said "fighting". That got me thinking. What skills would I really suggest developing for "fighting"??
First of all, I think some definition is in order. There is fighting, and then there is Fighting. But there is also FIGHTING. What do I mean?
In my mind, boxing is not fighting. To me, fighting represents self-defense. It is a skill we need when our physical safety or that of our loved ones is threatened in a way that cannot be resolved except through violence. Boxing does not qualify under this definition. Neither do wrestling, fencing, muay thai, judo/sambo, BJJ or MMA for that matter. This is not to say that these sports (and they are sports) cannot make you able to defend yourself or cause harm to an attacker. Rather it is to say that self-defense is not their primary objective. The primary objective is victory in controlled athletic competitions. This is not self defense.
At the other end of the spectrum are true combat arts. This is typified by those skills we teach our special forces and other elite military units. These are taught for battlefield survival, involve killing/incapacitating an opponent as quickly as possible, and usually involve weapons.
This can be very effective for the military, and does constitute self-defense, but is unacceptable outside of actual battlefield combat, since the results are permanent for those involved. Society's rules deal with the use of potentially lethal force harshly and a battlefield victory in a shopping mall parking lot will more than likely end you up in prison, which is worse than just losing your wallet, getting a black eye or suffering a bruised ego.
To succeed in self-defense situations requires a specific frame of mind. When there is no alternative to violence, we must be able to instantly harness our aggression and unleash it in the controlled bursts needed to explode into an attacker (or multiple attackers) and deliver enough damage to resolve the situation and escape with minimal harm. This may require use of a weapon (even an attacker's weapon) and may result in serious, potentially permanent injury or even death to an attacker. Mentally, we need to be prepared for what this means. In self-defense, the first response needs to be the last response. When we engage we must continue until the attacker(s) are out of the fight and we are out of danger.
When I talk about self-defense, I am not talking about the social "monkey dance" which happens when someone is simply expressing aggression, is drunk, or trying to define a social hierarchy. In these cases, we are rarely justified in using real self-defense techniques, since the response is not consistent with the threat level. These people usually do not truly want to harm us, they want to prove a point or express their emotion (usually fear). Real self-defense situations occur when an attacker's principal objective is causing us injury or death. This can often happen as part of a violent crime/assault rather than a social misunderstanding (although sometimes those can also escalate).
Real self-defense situations are spontaneous and chaotic. There are no rules or judges or points.
There is no sense of honor or fair play. There is also no prize for second place. Usually, we will be at extreme disadvantage since attackers will choose their terrain and environment, strength of numbers and weapons to favor their quick victory. With the odds against us from the start, decisive, immediate action is our best chance for survival. We must think fast and move fast to have any hope at all, and must be willing to use every means at our disposal to escape. Again, this is highly likely to result in serious injury or death to those involved (hopefully not us).
Thus, since the results are always unpredictable, I would encourage every martial artist to have a strong moral compass and the courage needed to walk away from any confrontation that does not absolutely have to end in violence. This is at the heart of what it means to be a "peaceful warrior".
In terms of specific skills, here's my opinion in order of usefulness in self-defense:
Weapons Training: in a real self-defense situation, a weapon that can be easy/readily found and rapidly deployed can help even the odds considerably. I will gladly hit anyone with anything rather than use my own hands (which can be injured). Good training helps us recognize the every day objects around us that can be brought to bear when needed. Yes, this is not fair. Yes, it is still the safest choice. Yes, I would ALWAYS use a weapon if there is one available (and there almost always is). In recent years, my preference is for impact weapons over edged weapons since whenever possible I want to avoid the risk of killing, and impact weapons have better optionality for submission than blades.
Kicking: Strong, effective low kicking should be part of every good martial artist's arsenal. The fact that we wear shoes (even women wearing heels) can add impact force to what we do and help resolve a conflict. 7-10 psi is all we need to disrupt the knee capsule, and this can be done very easily by most kicks. While these on their own are unlikely to kill an attacker, they can disrupt the situation enough to give us other options. Escape should always be a primary objective of any self-defense situation, and attackers with broken legs/feet ankles rarely give effective chase. I also really like leg/foot sweeps as a way of breaking the attacker's structure and setting up a fast end to a situation.
Empty Hand Strikes: I define this as being the use of non-fist striking to the opponent's body. It includes finger jabs to soft targets, elbows, palms, forearms, headbutts, knees and the like. These can be brutally effective in self-defense while offering little risk of damage when we deliver them correctly. The training emphasis should be on applying hard weapons versus soft targets and delivering the full body weight and shoulder/hip rotation wherever possible to add impact force.
The main downside here is the risk of very serious injury to the receiver. This is acceptable in self-defense situations, but has definite moral/legal implication. As with weapons, if you are not going to it deliver properly/fully, best not to use it at all. These are still my preference over using my closed fist to hit something.
Groundwork: These can be formidable skills, and a good grappling repertoire is very important since many self defense situations end up on the ground. Good skills here also help to immobilize attackers' weapon arms, which can add to our own safety. For training it is important to develop quickly delivered, decisive finishing techniques which can resolve the conflict as fast as possible. I am a big fan of elbow/shoulder breaks and joint dislocations for ending confrontations. Chokes/strangles/neck cranks can be very effective as well but carry serious risk of permanent injury. MMA is a sport, but we have seen how difficult it is to beat someone who has a good grappling background. However, in self-defense this can be a serious disadvantage since it is not a good strategy versus multiple attackers, where upright mobility is the key to escape.
Under the right circumstances, throwing (including judo/aiki/jujitsu) can be very effective, but in a real self-defense situation we will be under extreme stress and probably unable to execute any intricate techniques/locks. I am also not a fan of throws that project an attacker away from my area of direct control (unless they are being thrown down a flight of stairs or off a building, etc.). I want to avoid the risk of someone getting back up with an awareness of my skills and training. Also, given the time spent learning to breakfall, there is always the chance that an attacker has this training as well as we do.
Boxing: I am a huge fan of boxing conditioning and training, boxing footwork, and ring strategy.
Overall, boxers/muay thai/MMA fighters have some of the best physical/mental conditioning of any athletes, and better than most martial artists.
That being said, most boxers would not fare well in a self-defense situation. Punching, even for trained professionals, has a serious risk of damaging the puncher's hands/wrists, and this risk yields a comparatively low percentage chance of incapacitating an attacker (compared to the other skills listed above). Boxing is basically a sport of attrition, where well-conditioned athletes gradually wear each other down while scoring points, in order to discover fight-ending KO opportunities. In a self-defense situation, time is always of the essence and points/rounds do not exist.
Given the dynamics of self-defense, I have an affinity for well-rounded systems that teach a combination of the above skills. The goal is to develop abilities in a balanced way, and in self-defense adaptability is very important. I prefer arts which have weapons training (especially improvised weapons) at their core, and which emphasize practicality throughout.
Let me be very clear in saying that I do not ever discourage students or athletes from passionately studying and training as they wish, in accordance with their beliefs and goals.
Rather, I am stating my personal opinion as a martial artist concerned with self-defense and ensuring my own safety and that of my loved ones.
"When two tigers fight, one is certain to be maimed, and one to die."
Master Gichin Funakoshi - founder of Shotokan