You’re doing it wrong: FIGHTING

As a teenager, I spent years learning how to kick people in the head, and avoid getting whacked in the noggin.

Great exercise, good discipline, all that. But it’s not practical for real life OR the zombie apocalypse, which are the two infallible acid tests on this blog.

Even the best fighters in MMA are crazy careful about kicking high, because it’s high-risk, high-reward. Fighters tend to unload high kicks late in the fight, when their opponent is already reeling, because a fresh enemy will catch your fancy high kick and plant you on your butt, then rain down elbows until the ref pulls them off before your face turns into raw hamburger.

So sure, high kicks look impressive, and they’re great in kickboxing matches where wrestling isn’t allowed. Yet high-kicks are just one example out of 5.83 bazillion why we’ve been doing it wrong when it comes to fighting.

Let’s take an average-sized woman and train her in kung fu and karate since birth. Take her in the prime of her life, in her 20′s at her strongest. I still don’t want a 5’4″ woman weighing 135 pounds taking on 6’3 man who’s 235, no matter how little training he’s had.

Or two men. Or five drunks in a bar, like we see in the movies all the time. Sure, there’s a chance she could wipe the floor with them. Yet even if she’s the UFC middleweight champ, two-on-one is a bad fight.

And no, I’m not saying our hypothetical Super Woman should also dedicate her life to wrestling, Brazillian jiu-jitsu and Thai kickboxing to round things out and turn her into even more of a killing machine.

This is what I’m saying: if it takes a lifetime of training to make it a fair fight between somebody who’s shorter and smaller versus a bigger and untrained opponent, then we’re doing it all kinds of wrong.

Here’s a great fight scene from THE BOURNE IDENTITY, which Matt Damon fighting for his life against an equally skilled opponent. They’re about the same size, too. Take five inches and thirty pounds away from Matt and tell me he wins this fight.

These days I’m taking boxing from Mike, a Marine Recon commando in ‘Nam who’s been studying the sweet science since before I was born. He could whip me in two seconds. Yet as much as I love pounding the heavy bag and making the speed bag blur, it’s not a practical self-defense art for my wife or 11-year-old son. Great for me. Bad for them. It’s pretty unlikely I’ll be getting into scraps with 6’7 dudes who weigh 300, not unless the offensive line of the Seahawks comes to town and I spill beer on all of them while talking smack about their moms and Pete Carroll’s hair.

Tell me boxing will help me against seven dudes who all make me look like I’m in kindergarden.

Now it’s true that mixed martial arts and the UFC are changing things fast. Traditional martial arts that haven’t really been tested against others are being told to put up or shut up. Your stuff works? Show me. Put it in the ring.

Yet MMA isn’t an answer, not for the average person.

A huge part of MMA fighting is going to the ground against a single opponent. It’s true most fights turn into wrestling matches and wind up on the ground. But guess what? Rolling around on the floor with somebody is something you absolutely, positively cannot afford to do in real life, not if your enemy possibly has a buddy within shouting distance.

Standing, two-on-one is bad enough. On the ground, it’s deadly.

Even MMA isn’t street conditions. Fighters wrap and tape their hands to protect themselves. The gloves are to protect their opponents. Even then, these highly trained gladiators, the best in the world, often break their hands.

Your wrists won’t be protected by wraps. Your knuckles won’t be cushioned by tape. If you get in a fight in a back alley or the street, and punch somebody right in the face or head as hard as you can, you’re going to break your hand.

If you’re lucky and don’t break your hand, a smaller person–a woman, a kid, whoever–will typically lose a fist-fight against a taller, heavier opponent.

What do we need instead?

Self-defense that’s quick to learn and brutally practical.

Something that works not only against people of the same size and skill, but against a BIGGER opponent–or a bigger guy plus friends.

We need self-defense for the people who need it most. Not for 6’3 Swedes who’ve spent years hitting and getting hit for fun. It’s gotta work for kids with short attention spans and people who don’t have three days a week for five or seven or twelve years to get truly good at it.

The Israelis figured this out with Krav Maga, which is simple, easy to learn and brutally practical. They’ve been teaching their soldiers it for decades now.

I don’t want little kids and women spending all kinds of time learning how to punch people, kick folks in the head or do leg triangles. I want them to know NOT to punch people at all, that their elbow is far, far better. Won’t break, so have at it. Hit whatever you want, however hard you want. Go crazy.

I want them to learn how to fight dirty from the start, instead of being trained to fight fair and expected to forget all that when things get real.

And I want them to get trained in weapons. Not one favorite weapon, since it’s no guarantee they’ll have their gun, pepper spray or the sword that hangs from a display in their living room. Out in real life, it might be a rock, a broomstick, your car keys or a shirt that saves your life. Yeah, a shirt. Watch this to see how Jason Statham uses every object known to man, including half his wardrobe, as a weapon.

Even this scene isn’t realistic. Only in the movies do a dozen thugs wait around in a circle to take their turn getting their butt kicked by the invincible hero. In real life, they’d rush the hero, take him to the ground and finish him in about three seconds.

Which is the final lesson folks need to know: Don’t let any amount of training make you overconfident. Don’t try to win a fight against a group, even if you’ve dedicated your life to training and your name is Jon Bones Jones or Lyoto Machida.

The best way to win a fight is to avoid having one in the first place.

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Guy - Photo by Suhyoon Cho
Guy – Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller (FREEDOM, ALASKA) that won some award. Represented by the amazing Jill Marr of the Dijkstra Literary Agency.

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Filed under 1 Survival Sunday, Fighting and MMA

6 responses to “You’re doing it wrong: FIGHTING

  1. I’ve taught martial arts and self-defense for over a decade and, honestly, it’s the men most often surprised that “sparring” techniques don’t work in the real world. Women are, for the most part, quite clear on the matter. They know kicking an attacker in the head is a pretty silly go-to technique, and women who’ve been attacked know depending on “standard” strikes ignores the reality of what happens in an attack.

    And any martial arts instructor who is billing sparring techniques as self-defense for kids is actively putting his/her students in danger.

  2. Great post. I trained in Aikido for some time and have taken some self-defense classes. I’m 5′-even on a good day. There is no way I am going to “beat” anyone bigger than me (let alone my own size). But determination and hitting folks where it hurts is the best strategy – for me. And, yeah, movie-style fighting is fun to watch, but nothing like the real thing. As you said, three seconds and it is pretty much over. Thanks for the post! Reminds me that I should take another self-defense class soon. ;)

  3. This reminds me of something my old martial arts instructor used to tell us: “You know who brings a knife to a gun fight? A dead person.”
    As a student in New York City, we learned SING: Solar plexus, instep, nose, groin. Even an 11-year-old’s knee, foot, or elbow to one of those is going to hurt.

  4. Great post. I was a RAD instructor (Rape Aggression Defense). We taught the girls and women how to be proactive to avoid dangerous situations, how to break a hold and run! We also taught them not to fight if the situation was such that fighting would endanger them more and we taught them that the decision to fight or not fight was their’s alone. No one else could make it for them or judge them on their decision.

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