SP ARCHIVES: Karate/Streetfighting

Tommy asked:

Sorry for the length but I wanted to get across what is behind my question which is wayyy at the end. I’m stubborn and have my own views on things.

I know you have a bad taste for karate and I can agree on many points although I have a slightly different view. I think that karate at its basic element, as it may have been before being split into schools would have been just about fighting. I think that the techniques/tools and weapons are there but it is the method of training that is lacking and is disconnected from real fighting. But, on the other hand there are those (myself included) who have an interest in the extra baggage that comes with karate. If one wants only to learn how to fight, there are better and faster ways than karate or many other martial arts. Karate is for the extras with fighting being a choice and if you want to fight then you’ll have to extract that from the training and adapt it.

You yourself have mentioned the discipline needed for fighting taught through martial arts training as well as the body tempering/withstanding pain etc. Before your first karate class you had been training on your own from what you learned from books (if I’m not mistaken) so what you used to kick the shit out of the karate guys you trained with was your interpretation of the karate you studied via books and such. “That’ is what I believe karate is at its root, interpretation. It is a progressive method that unfortunately stopped progressing years and years ago. Once it became stylized it became training in fighting in a stylized manner rather than free expression. If we dump all the extras I think the techniques can be usable. Trying to apply a specific technique to a specific situation is, in my opinion, a mistake and a misinterpretation. I think you have to learn how to fight and internalize all the techniques using the principles rather than the exact movements.

I have been attacked on another forum for constantly talking about principles with the poster saying I use that term to mask a lack of knowledge or understanding. I stand by my belief that what is important is the understanding of the principles of technique and stances so that they can be imported anywhere rather than being stuck in a one size fits all (it doesn’t) quagmire. One example is stance. People learn a stance as a freeze framed photo posture. I think that is a misinterpretation stemming from books and photos. I think stances in motion would look similar to (as an example) your own “probing foot/slide back out” type of movement. When you slide out your lead foot would become light, when you slide in to probe it transitions through equal weight to a more forward weighted movement etc. The important point is the center of gravity….centering. Stances are only positioning IMO, completely mobile and fleeting.

If you played a little bit of guitar and were at a party someone might say, “Tommy can play this song, show em’ Tommy.” Now I may play along with the song in some exact method learned in a shallow manner and play note for note with my mind fully focused careful not to make a mistake; everything exact. But if I were fully learned in the principles and internalized my playing I could play the song with my eyes closed and play it any which way I wanted. I could fit myself right into the song itself in no stylized manner and go with the song if it changed. I could jump in and play with anyone at anytime even if I don’t know the particular song because I have learned “music” and made it my own. I think it’s the same with fighting and karate except that people don’t practice that way.

OK, after my long winded digression, what I’m getting at is this. I have always believed that no matter what it is you are learning as long as you learn to “fight” everything else will fall into place. Some want to specialize in self defense and others MMA while others are looking for something in between. I believe that even if you never trained in anything you can still be “the wrong guy to fuck with.” That is what I think is needed rather than some specialized method. Like the difference between Shotokan and Kyokushin. Shotokan tries to have a certain look and method/styling to there fighting while Kyokushin doesn’t concern itself with form, only getting the job done.

If you can fight then self defense takes care of itself, work from the top down.

Temper yourself, condition yourself, hone your kicking and punching, work on your clinching and takedowns, defenses of takedowns and ground work and just be an all around scrapper and you’ll be fine. If a technique or defense learned is supposed to do “A” it shouldn’t end at “A.” Understanding the principles will take it to “B” or even “D” if your opponent gets a hint at where you are going for instance and changes up on you, or mounts a defense.

So this was a long way around my question: Do you think that just training hard and becoming a good all around scrapper, no matter what you want to call your method or training, would cover everything? Wouldn’t the self defense take care of itself?
I ask because I saw a common question posted here also. “Does this translate into self defense?” or “does he teach self defense also?” I see SD as something you teach woman and old people who aren’t fighters. Don’t you think that if you become a fighter that everything else falls into place?

I mean I’m 50 years old, which isn’t old by any means. But I’m not going to jump I MMA ring anytime soon, I’m only training at this point because….well, it’s just what I do. But if I get into something on the street, why would I need specific self defense techniques? Wouldn’t just being able to “fight” be enough? The “techniques” are principles and just “happen” during the fight rather than being planned or applied to specific situations. It all depends on what your opponent gives you. But my first thing is that I want to overwhelm him and beat the living shit out of him before he has a chance to breath.

Understandably if you wanted to compete you would need a little more specialization, but there again, wouldn’t self defense, street fighting fall into place? Just kick ass.

Steve’s answer:

Tommy, with respect to the karate stuff, you’re free to e-mail me about it as you’ve done in the past, although I think I’ve made my position pretty clear and what more is there to say? I’m not going to tie up the forum discussing the pros and cons of karate. I didn’t join the forum to do that.

About your question: it doesn’t seem like a question. It seems like a statement.

I would agree that the term ‘self-defence’ is a negative one and implies that one is a victim; I’m much more of the predatory mindset. And no, I don’t support the idea of training specialized moves in isolation.

However, I am a martial artist and a trainer and it’s my job to cover all angles of the fight. No two scenarios, situations, or opponents are going to be the same. And when it comes to the ‘street’ the environment can be extremely variable as well.

I recommend MMA because it allows you to build the fighting man. But you’d be stupid to think he can deal with any situation just because he’s an MMA fighter. In the same way, anybody who thinks that because he’s been successful so far, he can take on anybody or anything just relying on his experiences, is taking a hell of a gamble.

The whole point of training is to prepare for the worst, not hope for the best.

What I do, I train the guy to be a one-on-one, unarmed fighter, multidimensional. That gives me the basic tool to work with. As he becomes more competent in this, I’ll then begin to introduce new, unfamiliar situations. And these can be widely variable. I’m training this guy to adapt. To assume nothing and anticipate everything.

Is it enough to ‘just kick ass’ as you put it? When we were in Earlham Street, for seven years we ‘just kicked ass’ all day, every day. People have written about it, watching guys get knocked out in front of their eyes and we just carried on. But I started to realise that no matter how many fights we had, we were only ever going to be as good as the guy we’d fought at the time and the situations which had occurred in that fight. And I started to figure out that even if I fought like that for a hundred years or more, I wouldn’t cover everything. And I sure wouldn’t cover all of the different psychological, physical and stylistic types that I might potentially have to fight.

And that’s when I started to watch fights, not for their entertainment value, but for those ‘dogfight’ moments that I keep talking about, which I could use as references for different scenarios and situations. I needed a method, an approach, by which I could create drills which would enhance the skills required for a scenario/situation, but then test those skills in forms of conditional fighting. Where I couldn’t reference video recordings as I can today, I had playfighting which was experimental and exploratory to produce possibilities which again had to be tested in conditional fighting. I had to break the fight down so that we were covering all aspects of the fight rather than just fighting and hoping we were going to learn.

That’s my method. That’s my approach.

Being an all-round scrapper? It helps. And if that’s what you personally believe and practice, then who can argue with that? But as a trainer my job is to take guys who may not be natural fighters and make them into fighters. And if they’re a fighter already, my job is to make them better. More adaptable. That’s the business I’m in. That’s my job.

If I believed ‘just training hard and becoming a good all around scrapper, no matter what you want to call your method or training, would cover everything? Wouldn’t the self defense take care of itself?’ then I would have wasted the last 40 years of trying to define this thing called the fight and finding ways of training people to understand it.