Reality Fighting & Training versus Reality

In teaching Self-Defense

We hear a lot these days about reality fighting. This probably comes as a result of the increasing street violence omnipresent in Western countries. People in Taiwan (and most of Asia, at least in countries that are not at war) have usually no concept of civilian violence, as is seen today in Western metropolis; in Asia, violence is mainly the privilege of triads and the like. The first time I confronted public violence was in a ball (a kind of itinerant dancing hall as was common in Europe in the seventies) where a guy got stabbed to death by a group of hooligans in a small French village. For me, as a kid, it was a shock. But violence is even much more acute today in large cities’ suburbs where kids grow up in fearless and aimless environments where drug dealing, bullying and chaos are the rule. When I say violence I mean real attacks, not the occasional bar brawl or the punch-and-wrestle on the school campus. I mean attacks that can be a threat to your health, your life, your belongings or your family.

But is reality fighting any use? Can someone train in a dojo for a street battle? Not sure…It all depends on the dojo and on the coach. Dojos have two main components: the discipline (art) and the head coach. What do they teach and what is the level of realism emphasized by the coach? There are a few things one needs to know for training to be rewarding.

No art is better than any other. All have their pluses and minuses. Practitioners in any art can be very good and efficient fighters providing that they train to a very high level. Obviously however, a well rounded fighter has better chances to overcome any kind of critical situation, so I would recommend to train in at least two arts, to have a good background in both striking and grappling.

Only a very small percentage of coaches have real fight experience. Does that mean they cannot teach reality fighting? I don’t think so. Most martial arts curriculum were originally created to match real situations, so the techniques you learn with a coach who has trained for years in a system designed to be efficient should be resourceful, as long as the coach knows the real applications and limitations of these techniques. If the coach happens to have real life experience (street defense, military, police, etc...) then the better.

Sparring. If your art does not feature sparring, forget about efficiency. Techniques and forms need to be applied at real speed, with powerful attacks. To my opinion, sparring is a major component of training. It allows you to put into practice and combine techniques; it enhances your creativity, forces you to fight under pressure, and to react immediately and decisively to an attack. However, sparring also has limitations as we’ll see further.

The threat factor. One should keep in mind that sparring in a practice would never be the same as fighting in a street. Real life situations are usually totally unexpected, and entice a quick surge of adrenalin and fear. The stress under a real threat can be tremendous, and it may translate differently for various individuals. Although there are some ways to work under stress in a dojo, there is no way you can fully reproduce real life situations. Most often, real threats will involve people acting weird and doing things that you’d never see in practice.

Weapons, especially sticks, steel bars, bats, blades, and makeshift weapons are common ground in real life situations. So yes it’s interesting to train with all kinds of weapons as well. First it gives you a new perception of distances, and teaches you how to handle a weapon properly, and also how to disarm and opponent. Aiki-jujitsu techniques were mostly developed to that aim at a time people were carrying weapons on the streets. Some people argue that it’s impossible to defend oneself against sharp blades. I totally disagree on that; yes it’s difficult, and yes it is dangerous, and if possible, you’d better run for your life when facing a weapon; however it might not always be possible. In my experience, I was attacked twice with sharp blades, and twice I managed to overcome the attackers, even if in the second case my left palm got lightly wounded.

No rules. Another factor that you have to keep in mind is that on the street there are NO rules, and NO referee to stop the fight before it reaches dangerous or deadly ends. Even MMA/UFC style fights, although they involve brutality, are still sports, and they are hitherto miles away from real violence; unlike antique gladiators who sometimes did fight for their life, they have rules and referees, and bouts are held in a ring or octagon that limits the moves of the fighters…Additionally, they are always one-on-one fights.

No ground. Many modern wrestlers emphasize groundwork and stress that most fights end up in a clinch and on the ground. This is a misconception that is being fuelled by several factors:

  • MMA fights influence were people are bound by ropes to a restricted area as well as by rules, and in which, apart from a hypothetic KO, the only way to submit an opponent is to bring him to the ground and finish him with a choke or lock.
  • MMA fights are sports, not real deadly fights, and fighters only have to face one opponent; therefore going to the ground is a good option, but it maybe deadly on the street; since many fights involve more than one opponent, it would be crazy to go to the ground to be stomped by several people.
  • Confusing bar brawl and real street threat. In bar (or school) brawls, most of the time only 2 opponents are involved, and no weapons are used. Going to the ground when weapons are used can be extremely dangerous, as one may fall or roll over a blade when wrestling (or on any other dangerous item for that matter, such as rocks or broken glass).
  • Size matters a lot. Fighting a large opponent is a hard job, but wrestling with him is dumb. A bigger, stronger and mad attacker will be very hard to overcome by wrestling, especially on the ground (that’s why sport competitions have weight classes). If an opponent is twice you size, you certainly don’t want to let him put a hand on you.

So although I agree that groundwork is important and must be studied seriously -- as you may well be taken to the ground someday and will need to defend yourself -- on the street always avoid going to the ground. This is why most self-defense systems do not stress groundwork. Many have included some in their curriculum, and some had it from the beginning, but usually the rule in self-defense is “ground the attacker, but stay on your feet”.

Last but not least, in practice we always use patterns and observe certain etiquette. Street fighters not only do not have any rules; they also do not act according to given patterns. The reason they are dangerous is that they act weird, tricky, nasty and unexpected. They know that the winner will be the one using the surprise element. And this is why teaching self-defense is so difficult; if teaching techniques is easy, teaching behavioral “illness” is extremely complex. So getting ready to defend yourself or save your skin is not only a matter of practice, it also is a matter of psychology, mindset and experience.

Copyright 2006 - GZ.

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