I have been doing martial arts now for more than twenty years, and something that continually bugs me every now and then is the question: am I ready for a violent confrontation? It is often believed that we approach the task of learning martial arts in order to defend ourselves. This is primarily the goal of most people, especially young boys being picked on, is to learn how to fight back if ever necessary. That being said with the common focus of most Traditional Martial Arts (TMA) being on forms and performance these days, especially Chinese Martial Arts (CMA), there is little focus on true self-defense and situational training. There’s probably good reason for that, and I bet it has mostly to do with instructors just not knowing what or how these types of things begin in the real world.
In the Traditional Chinese Martial Arts (TCMA) world, there is often a lot of emphasis placed on the standoff between two (or more) individuals. However, in the real world now, you may not know when you are going to be hit (or stabbed, or shot). It may come out of nowhere. Tim Cartmell, one of my teachers, told me a story where he recounts in his own words:
I got into a fight with a huge Samoan guy in a parking lot when I was in my early 20’s. He did walk up from behind me, I heard people yelling and as I turned around he hit me with a hook in the face that knocked me over the hood of a car. I managed to recover and we went at it, at first I feigned injury (well I actually had double vision in the eye he hit) holding my face with my hands until he got close, then I backhanded him in the head and knocked him away, as I remember he tried to hit me a couple times but was too slow, I hit him a couple times then he backed down while screaming at me, and the fight was over. He was pretty obviously high.
That one wasn’t a duel, it was a street fight.
This is an important distinction between a duel and a real street fight. A great deal of traditional martial artists spend time often saying that certain techniques from modern combat sports would never work in a real fight. However, I would respond to this by saying that most TMA techniques would fall into that category as well. Most martial artists are guilty of the “squaring-off syndrome” where both participants know they are in a fight regardless of any such sanction of said fight.
The problem is, that with most martial artists, they think they’ll never be taken by surprise, that their super-secret ninja training will keep them from being snuck up on, or they’ll somehow survive a sucker punch. I’m not saying that all martial artists will be knocked out by a surprise punch (I didn’t) but to keep in mind that you will get surprised and possibly very hurt because people are cowardly and will not always tell you that they want to fight because they don’t want to fight, they want to win.
I have a few ideas of training to prepare for such an event but it is important to make sure that you are already doing certain things within your training. First, and very importantly, you must be doing some physical conditioning whether it’s weight training, running, body weight exercises, intervals, etc.; the reason is that you might do martial arts a lot and be in decent shape (although I have met plenty of martial artists who are very out of shape), but if you are not getting in a decent strength and conditioning routine, you will be gassed and then no matter what, your technique and skill won’t matter. Basic strength training and sprints or burpee intervals are the way to go, if it sucks, you’re doing it right.
Secondly, you must drill single movements and 3-5 combinations often and in different ways utilizing shadowboxing, pad work, heavy bags, double-end bags, etc. This is to give you an idea of how you should be moving and also what it’s like to actually hit something. It still amazes me how many martial artists have never hit anything, especially IMA practitioners. You can’t fajin (express force) into thin air, you’re just rapidly tensing and un-tensing muscle that way. The force must be expressed into something, i.e. a bag or person.
Partner drilling is next with sparring as the ultimate goal. You must drill techniques with a partner first in a rote manner so as to gain the muscle memory and then moving towards an ever-more “alive” fashion. I’m so tired of seeing the “I’m too deadly to spar” comment, get over yourself! You’ll never know what works in a fight if you don’t challenge yourself against a training partner, plus are you really going to kill every person you are defending yourself against, I mean get real, this isn’t a fantasy, there are “usages of force” laws that will throw you in jail if you kill someone for accidentally touching you (absurd I know, but touching someone who doesn’t wish to be touched can be perceived as assault and battery regardless of intention, despite how light or hard that touch was). I’ll introduce basic sparring drills in another post. In order to prepare for possible street altercations, you must spend time sparring in order to get used to the adrenaline that will release. That doesn’t mean you will find yourself winning but your chances are better if you’ve had a reasonable amount of contact in a controlled setting.