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Iain Abernethy
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Hi Gary,

Gary Chamberlain wrote:
So I can't help thinking those that dismiss combat sport as 'unhelpful' are missing out.  But I am biased. Definitely.

For my part I can certainly see how combat sports can be helpful. But helpful is not the same as being a perfect fit. Self-protection training (when done right) should be a perfect fit for the needs of self-protection. To say combat sports have absolutely no relationship to self-protection would be incorrect. But to state that combat sports are the best way to trains for self-protection would also be incorrect.

A few years ago I did a podcast on this called “The Martial Map” which can be found here:

http://iainabernethy.co.uk/content/martial-map-free-audio-book

The podcast explains why self-protection, fighting, and martial arts are not the same things; they are related to one another and have some overlap, but they are not the same things.

The “helpful” part of combat sports would be found in area 5 of the Venn diagram shown. However, there are areas that are purely fighting (I would suggest blocking and countering belong in area 3) and things which are purely self-protection (i.e. law, verbal de-escalation, home security, mobile security, escape skills, etc which are in area 1).

For the person who is only interested in self-protection, they would be best served sticking to the things in the green area as opposed to studying the yellow area for the cross over parts in area 5. That’s not to say that combat sports are not helpful, just that is not the same as self-protection.

Gary Chamberlain wrote:
It's hard explaining this to those that constantly filter everything through a funnel called "Would this work in the street?"

I agree with the sentiment expressed here. It’s wrong to judge things not designed for self-protection by the standards of slef-pretection. That’s like saying an apple is a bad orange. The things outside the green area have huge value, but their value needs to be judged against the context they were designed for.

I’ve learnt loads of stuff that has no value for self-protection, but it remains highly value when it comes to fighting (in all its various guises) and martial arts (cultural interest, historical interest and physical and mental development). I also teach plenty of stuff that has no value for self-protection, but it remains valuable in other ways. Taking the view that only things that “work in the street” have intrinsic value is very close-minded and short-sighted in my view. You miss out on so much taking that view.

Gary Chamberlain wrote:
Maybe blocking isn't essential if we can run.

For self-protection I would suggest it is also not essential even if we can’t run. In his book, “The Pavement Arena” Geoff Thompson explains that although he had trained blocks extensively in his martial arts training, he cannot recall using a single one in his 300+ live situations. Instead Geoff states that those situations consisted of attack and frantic counterattack. I don’t think blocking is non-essential just because we can run, but that the close, chaotic, extremely emotional, and entirely unstructured nature of the altercation render blocking a far less valuable skill that it would be in a skilled exchange.

Gary Chamberlain wrote:
Maybe striking isn't essential if we can run.

Striking can also give us the opportunity to run and are the key tools when things denigrate to the physical. Personally I would say solid hand strikes are a must for self-protection training in case all the other tools fail. So this is an area where training in combat sports will definitely have a great deal of valuable cross over. The tactics may be different, but a good punch is a good punch.

Gary Chamberlain wrote:
Maybe kicking isn't essential if we can run … Maybe kicking above the knee is useless

At the recent BCA seminar, Peter Consterdine stated that kicking above mid-thigh was a big no-no for self-protection. Geoff Thompson went one further and stated that he would not kick at all unless it was a final shot to a falling or downed enemy. However, both men have encouraged me to kick head height when training with them and in sparring with Peter et al head height kicks come into play all the time. There are two reasons for this seeming contradiction. Firstly, while high kicks may not be good for self-protection (green area), they are very useful for fighting (area 3). Secondly, the attributes through the practice of high kicking (greater flexibility, explosiveness, muscular endurance etc) help us to deliver even more potent low kicks. So while high kicks themselves would be in area 3, the attributes developed would be in area 5. This is again another example of how combat sports / fighting can be helpful though the cross over in area 5.

Gary Chamberlain wrote:
Maybe pre-emptive strikes work better than blocking and countering

In the context of self-protection, I would say that is very true. But in the context of fighting, blocking and countering works well due the increased distance, reduced emotional arousal, techniques being used which are very recognisable to both parties because of similar training, much lower overall rate of fire, etc.

I did a quick websearch as I remembered Geoff Thompson writing about this very recently. The article in full can be found here:

http://www.geoffthompsoninspired.com/does-self-defence-work/

There are a few parts that I feel are very relevant to the discussion we are having here. It’s my highlight on the blocking section:

“One of the many things I have learned in my forty years of martial arts training, from working with masters and from following the deity of my own hard won experience is that self defence and martial arts are not the same thing. Sport MA and self defence are not the same thing either. And recreational training – twice a week at the local sports hall – certainly does not constitute a serious investment in real self protection.

When people talk martial art they think that they are automatically talking self defence but they are not. And when they talk self defence they believe that it is synonymous with martial art. Again, it is not. The two are very different, and they should be separated and taught as such.

There is nothing wrong with sport martial art, I love it, I am a big fan. And recreational training is better than no training at all. But if people are ever to survive a violent encounter on the pavement arena, it is imperative that they learn to distinguish between the two …

 …. When I teach self defence I may flirt around martial technique, and encourage people to invest in a core system, but the bulk of my teaching is in the art of avoidance. And if an encounter does by necessity become physical I teach and I preach the pre-emptive strike (attacking first). It is the only thing that works consistently …

… The concept of defence at the point of contact is not only unsound it is dangerous and extremely naive. Waiting for someone to attack you is strategic madness because blocks don’t work! The Kwai-Chang-Cain theory of block and counter-attack is even more absurd, especially if you are facing more than one opponent …

… If you honestly believe that you are about to attacked, hit them before they can hit you. Once you have landed the first strike, run ...

... There is great freedom in brevity. It doesn’t matter if a technique or an art (or an exponent for that mater) might not work in the street, who really cares at the end of the day, as long as you stipulate that in your manifesto. There is nothing nicer than doing ‘art’ simply for arts sake ...

... I still practiced traditional martial art because I loved what it gave me, I still dabbled in the sport (even though I was not very good at it) because it offered challenge, but I separated the self defence element, I isolated it, placed it in its own box and practised it as a different art. And self defence definitely is a different art.”

In line with the above I agree that we should separate out self-protection, sport and martial art; whilst still recognising the inherent value of all three areas. This is why I try to be ever mindful of context so the students know what they are training in any given moment so confusion cannot reign, and so they can recognise the inherent value each area has when judged on its own terms.

All the best,

Iain

Gary Chamberlain
Gary Chamberlain's picture

Great post!  (Searches for a rep button)

My own primitive door work usually involved grabbing and headbutts.  Strobe lights (well this was the 70's) made distancing tricky and I never saw the point of stopping, lining up and trying to punch someone out when I could just tip my head and use 14 stone at a decent collision speed.  So yes, looking back I understand GT's comments completely.

I also found after an event I had no precise recollections other than hustling unco operative people out of the nearest fire exit.  As there was no cctv to review then I'd be hard pushed to say whether I 'blocked' that punch or simply grabbed the arm and used a knee etc.  I survived unscathed so that's all that matters.

That is the purpose of training.  To be able to adapt/respond instinctively and prevail.  It doesn't have to be stylish and that is what attracted me most to knockdown rather than the WUKO tournaments of the day.  You scored if you knocked them down, and won outright if you knocked them out.  I used the same impact and aggression in 'real' situations where escape was the desired result.  I never, ever, thought  'Ah, we're not on a mat here so I'd best revise my plan'.  If I saw an ugly lump in front of me that meant me harm, I twatted him.  I never saw the need to overcomplicate.

I was young then, in my 20's.  Training choices were limited.  If you were lucky you found a decent unarmed combat instructor, or you went to boxing or did a martial art.  I chose Kyokushin where we trained hard and sparred hard and with the confidence (and perhaps naivity) of youth we believed in ourselves.  Maybe that made all the difference. 

Happy days!  

Gary

Dale Parker
Dale Parker's picture

Training is part of it, practical techniques are also part of it, but I have to borrow from Bruce Lee here, its not the style or the techniques, its the person.

What works for Bas may not work for everyone, yet we have other good Martial Artist.

The bobbing and weaving obviously doesnt work for Bas, but if you've ever seen an expert at it, its amazing, and I think its totally the individual that pulls it off.

PASmith
PASmith's picture

What I don't understand are people that say they can (or train to) defend themselves on the street or in a real fight but would be useless in an MMA match.

To my mind an MMA match is easier than a real fight (and harder in some ways too). There're less variables at play, a single same size opponent, no surprise, limited techniques, safe location etc etc. If someone can't effectively function in that environment then how will functioning in a "real go" be any easier (where things will arguably not be stacked in your favour from the start)?

It'd be like someone saying they could swim the English channel but not swim a few lengths in a nice heated swimming pool.

Or a downhill mountain biker saying he can't cycle along a straight track in the park.

I don't get how being good in one area precludes you from being functional in another, related, area?

Now for sure I'm not saying that training in MMA is training in self defence or vice versa. I agree with Iain's martial map and training being directed in the area you wish to gain skill will produce the best results.

But at the very least if someone can reliably defend themselves in a real go I think they would also have the base skills to at least be functional in an MMA type setting or scenario. Not  perhaps "win" in an MMA type setting  (the MMA specific person will obviously have an advantage there) but have the rudiments of movement and offensive and defensive priorities to be functional (ie not utterly clueless).

Black Tiger
Black Tiger's picture

Dale Parker wrote:

Training is part of it, practical techniques are also part of it, but I have to borrow from Bruce Lee here, its not the style or the techniques, its the person.

What works for Bas may not work for everyone, yet we have other good Martial Artist.

The bobbing and weaving obviously doesnt work for Bas, but if you've ever seen an expert at it, its amazing, and I think its totally the individual that pulls it off.

I would have to agree with Dale here, Bas is a really good Martial Artist, but its not the only method.

Its the same as there's not a best style out there as everyone would be doing THAT style, its what's best for the individual that is BEST

BUT the best techniques as stated in the video is not to be there in the first place - this is why a 1 mile run/jog without stopping is part of the Dan grade syllabus

Gary Chamberlain
Gary Chamberlain's picture

PASmith wrote:

What I don't understand are people that say they can (or train to) defend themselves on the street or in a real fight but would be useless in an MMA match.

Great question!

Combat sport needs controlled aggression.  I've seen lots of martial artists with superb control and lots of unarmed combat with massive aggression.  Meeting in the middle and having the right amount of both is not always as easy as some would have you believe.  (Not to mention skill, fitness, resilience etc)

I suspect many simply use a modern version of the old "I'm too dangerous to spar" routine.  Many  will simply state they have no need to spar or compete as it completely the opposite of the mindset required for defence.  Sounds plausible, but the ability to smash someone does not come naturally to some - probably why they started training in the first place - so the opportunity to legally unload on someone can be a real help.

Gary

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

PASmith wrote:
What I don't understand are people that say they can (or train to) defend themselves on the street or in a real fight but would be useless in an MMA match.

I think it’s because they are two very different skill sets.  MMA has fighting to win as the only option. Self-protection has fighting to escape as the last resort. MMA is about honestly defeating a fellow combat athlete. Self-protection is about keeping yourself safe from people with no moral qualms.

Self-protection is not the same as a “no rules street fight” and I think that is where the comparison made falls down; and it is the differences that mean one person could be very effective in one environment but not effective in another.

I gave my thinking on this in a earlier post in this thread:

Iain Abernethy wrote:
I would suggest that a similar distinction exists between self-protection and fighting. If a person truly wants to learn self-protection then their training should be focused on that objective and should include such must haves as threat awareness and avoidance, knowledge of law, escape skills, verbal de-escalation, dealing with weapons, multiple attackers, etc. Fight training does not address any of these area and hence fighting training is not the ideal preparation for self-protection.

To give a further illustration, let’s take the example of self-protection student who is brilliant at threat awareness, verbal de-escalation and escape. When dealing with a situation he may see it coming long before it is close to getting physical. If dialogue ensues, he will have trained in the skills needed to talk it down and will have plenty of practise of that. He is therefore likely to be able to de-escalate and prevent it getting physical. If that is not possible, he has been trained to recognise this and pre-empt at the right time in order to escape.

By contrast, let’s take a student who has been solely trained in fighting skills. He has not had awareness training and hence could be taken out before he recognises a situation is in the offing. If dialog ensues, he has never been trained in verbal de-escalation so he will not be able to effectively avoid conflict. He has also never been trained in pre-emption so he could well be struck and incapacitated by the enemy before any of his fighting skills could come into play.

If we put all the “pre-fight” stuff to one side, fight training is still not ideal. If the fighter has only been trained in the use of fighting tactics then he could find himself in trouble e.g. if he fixates on one person he leaves the others free to attack at will. The fighter will be told to “never take your eyes of your opponent”. Conversely the self-protection student will be encouraged to always be aware of those around them, to tactically position themselves accordingly, and to never fixate on one person.

The fighter is trained to fight to win. This could mean the opportunities to escape are not recognised or taken and hence they leave themselves with greater chances of physical harm and possible legal difficulty too. The self-protection student, however, is trained to see their “win” as escape and hence they will look for, and seek to create, escape opportunities. This is the better tactic in that context.

The self-protection student will not have the skills associated with a skilled interchange to determine a winner though. Move them in to the competitive environment and their skills and tactics are no longer a good fit. Verbal skills, awareness and escape are all irrelevant. They also won’t possess the footwork, feinting, blocking, etc skills needed for such a one-on-one fight so they will probably perform badly.

Factoring in all of the above, I think it is easy to see how the self-protection student could perform badly in competition, but far better in self-protection than the fighter would.

The most recent podcast is also on how “street fighting” is a dangerous term and most certainly not a synonym for self-protection:

http://www.iainabernethy.co.uk/content/street-fighting-podcast

If we do stick with the physical only, and to give one further example, I have a very close friend who has had hundreds of “fights” with a system no more complex than, “I hit them with my right, if they are still standing I head butt them, and if they are still standing I run away.” Because of his vast experience he knows exactly when to go and his techniques – all two of them – are thoroughly tested and proven; as is his simple tactic of hit twice and then run. Back before he sorted his life out, this guy has knocked hundreds of people out in his own environment. I’d have put him up against any martial artist in that environment because they have lost the “fight” before they even knew they were in it due to his dishonesty, deception and violence in application.

However, put the same guy in a dojo, a cage, ring or on mat and you take away his ability to “ambush” and his one and only tactic. His two techniques won’t fare well when fighting at a distance with a guard up. He also does not know footwork, how to feint, takedowns, submissions, submission defences. He’d be easily beaten in an MMA match, but put him back in his environment and he has a “fighting record” unequalled by any MMA fighter i.e. hundreds on “wins”, quite a few draws (when he ran away) and, to my knowledge not a single loss.

It’s people like him (in his youth) we should be concentrating on learning to deal with for self-protection; not fellow martial artists.

To me, it is obvious why a person could be very able in self-protection but not in a match fight and vice-versa. It’s because a match fight is decided by fighting ability alone. In self-protection neither you nor the enemy wants a fight (i.e. an honest test of who is the better fighter). The criminal wants to take you out “unfairly” and we should be seeking to avoid or escape, not fight to a conclusion. Very different contexts and objectives.

PASmith wrote:
It'd be like someone saying they could swim the English channel but not swim a few lengths in a nice heated swimming pool.

To use this analogy, the MMA fighter would be the guy who could swim the English channel … the self-protection practitioner would spend far more time learning how to safely sail a boat so they never fell into the water in the first place … and if they did fall in the water their training would not have them seek to swim the channel but swim back to the safety of the boat.

PASmith wrote:
But at the very least if someone can reliably defend themselves in a real go I think they would also have the base skills to at least be functional in an MMA type setting or scenario.

I disagree and would refer back to the example of my friend and what I have written in the previous post. Their base skills – the ones they would prioritise and finely hone – would be awareness, avoidance, verbal de-escalation, pre-emption, escape skills, etc none of which are relevant to a square go with a martial athlete.

All the best,

Iain

JWT
JWT's picture

PASmith wrote:

What I don't understand are people that say they can (or train to) defend themselves on the street or in a real fight but would be useless in an MMA match.

To my mind an MMA match is easier than a real fight (and harder in some ways too). There're less variables at play, a single same size opponent, no surprise, limited techniques, safe location etc etc. If someone can't effectively function in that environment then how will functioning in a "real go" be any easier (where things will arguably not be stacked in your favour from the start)?

It'd be like someone saying they could swim the English channel but not swim a few lengths in a nice heated swimming pool.

Or a downhill mountain biker saying he can't cycle along a straight track in the park.

I don't get how being good in one area precludes you from being functional in another, related, area?

Now for sure I'm not saying that training in MMA is training in self defence or vice versa. I agree with Iain's martial map and training being directed in the area you wish to gain skill will produce the best results.

But at the very least if someone can reliably defend themselves in a real go I think they would also have the base skills to at least be functional in an MMA type setting or scenario. Not  perhaps "win" in an MMA type setting  (the MMA specific person will obviously have an advantage there) but have the rudiments of movement and offensive and defensive priorities to be functional (ie not utterly clueless).

Hi Paul

Between my seeing this and getting back from a class to reply Iain has written a pretty comprehensive answer, but as someone who's trained with you a few times (so you've got a rough idea of what I teach plus we've both paired up together as students under another teacher) and as someone who would also say "I feel relatively comfortable with A but not with B" I'll explain my reasoning.

Conflict is made up of various component parts, whether it be real or sporting.  In DART I sometimes talk about the FEAR versus EASE model when explaining basic underlying factors in conflict.  I talk about the FEAR of the defender versus the EASE of the attack.  In this model I'm looking at the Focus, `Experience, Attitude and Reaction time of the defender weighed up against the Environment, Attitude (mindset, aggression, intent etc), Speed and Entry angle of the attack(er).  Without going into too much detail each of those headings can be broken down into sub factors.

For me the FEAR v EASE model of an MMA match is completely different to that of dealing with geuine violence.  Iain already looked at your water analogy, and I was going to describe it not in the form of swimming in a pool v swimming in the sea, but as kayaking on a river versus sailing on a river.  The river may be constant, the direction may be constant, but the methodology and tactics can be pretty different.

I am used to dealing with committed attacks.  I'm comfortable at extremely close range.  I'm used to training against occasional jabs, haymakers, hooks, pushes, grabs, headlocks, headbutts, knees, lashing kicks, barges, attempted tackles etc.  I'm used to sucker punches, threats, pincer attacks, con tactics, working in enclosed spaces, open spaces, on furniture,  people trying to pull me away, trying to push me in, getting in the way, one on ones, two on ones, and other group variables. I can cope with falling to the ground and trying to get back on my feet against someone trying to kick me or punch me while I'm there: these are all things I train for.  I'm not used to dealing with long range kicking or striking attacks, feints, probing of defences, or dealing with a skilled grappler on the ground - I don't train these things because I don't see them in the environment for which I train.  When I nip into a more sport orientated dojo and spar I struggle with the long range linear striking tactics, I just want to get in close and 'kata' the person.  It's a very different approach and a lot of what I do does not translate across.  How often do I see kata movement application as the best approach in the scenario days I run - all the time, how often do I see Kata moves as the best or safe approach in standard karate sparring - never.

When I look at an MMA match I see a different mental and physical environment, different techniques and different tactics to that for which I've trained.  They may seem easier to you but they are alien to me.  Although I have fairly good striking skills and covering skills and a reasonable anti-takedown approach, because I have not trained for those different elements I think I would be at a disadvantage, the same sort of disadvantage that I find people from a different training paradigm have when they come to my scenario days.  

Now on the pro MMA side, if I step into an MMA ring against an experienced  MMA chap I'm at a disadvantage against a person with well honed skills, the MMA guy by contrast is at a disdvantage in my training arena against someone mimicing heavy aggression (according to the training level chosen) but not particularly high skill (as they are using HAOV rather than our trained tactics), so might be hoped to adapt better to my environment than I to his.  As Iain pointed out, my real environment isn't actually the water - it is staying out of the water (and for your sins you've sat through me lecturing on violent crime).  But in the physical terms, you are always going to be best at the model for which you train, and therfore what you train should be clearly focused for what you are interested in and find the most fun, whether that is MMA, Full contact Karate, WTF TKD or self defence.  

I can see common elements between the two, but I also think that it's possibe to be 'good' at dealing with one while being 'bad' at dealing with the other.

All the best

John Titchen

Gary Chamberlain
Gary Chamberlain's picture

Wow!

That's a lot of skills.  How well do you find your students retain them after attending a course?  

It's obvious I come from the opposite end of the spectrum as knockdown requires you to learn a lot of skills then selectively prune things away until you're left with a few trusted tools you can do damage with.  I know we're talking about a different skillset but a common factor is - if all else fails - impact on target.

To get back on topic the long range attacks you mention required blocking skills.  I fought at heavyweight so the impact from some was simply too great to 'ride it out', you had to use footwork, body movement and blocks to decelerate / deflect the blows - or get too busted up to take part in the next round.

Gary

JWT
JWT's picture

Gary Chamberlain wrote:

Wow!

That's a lot of skills.  How well do you find your students retain them after attending a course?  

It's obvious I come from the opposite end of the spectrum as knockdown requires you to learn a lot of skills then selectively prune things away until you're left with a few trusted tools you can do damage with.  I know we're talking about a different skillset but a common factor is - if all else fails - impact on target.

To get back on topic the long range attacks you mention required blocking skills.  I fought at heavyweight so the impact from some was simply too great to 'ride it out', you had to use footwork, body movement and blocks to decelerate / deflect the blows - or get too busted up to take part in the next round.

Gary

Hi Gary

I don't see it as a lot of skills.  I think here the overlap between sport and self defence is at its strongest.  What I have is a small number of techniques and tactics that are low maintenance and work for a broad range of things.  What I do is practice that small number of overlapping and interlocking drills/techniques/principles with lots of variations on the environment (space size, numbers and nature pof particpants, participant game plans etc).  So what I do (in the physical repertoire) is teach a few trusted tools that I get my students comfortable with using in lots of different ways.  So we're not that dissimilar!

My lack of working in the long range, or indeed for focusing on fights that go beyond the 1-40 second time span, is probably why my experience of 'blocking' is so different from yours.

All the best

John

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

One think that I think may need added here as an important aside is that anyone can learn to effectively protect themselves from crime, but not everyone can learn to fight. An 80 year old female living on her own would not be best served by learning any kind of physical skill. She certainly would not be able to hold her own in a “fight”. She can, however, learn simple self-protection in the form of personal security practises etc. She would be best served by looking at the things in the pure self-protection area of my martial map (Area 1). These are most effective skills and they would be much easier for her to learn, apply and retain. She can learn to keep herself safe, but she’s not going to be able to hold her own in an MMA match.

It’s common for martial artists and fighters to see self-protection as being all about the physical, but it needs to be remembered that for the vast majority the physical will never be a workable option (and even when it is it should be the last resort for both tactical and legal reasons). People are best served by the non-physical side of self-protection because it is easier to learn and it achieves the objective better.

A friend once remarked that if we are truly focusing on self-protection then we will be spending more time watching Crime-Watch than the UFC. Learning about the modus operandi of criminals is infinitely more relevant than learning how to punch, kick or pass guard.

Ignoring the most effective and relevant options in favour of the physical is a common train among martial artists. They do this because they know about the physical side of things to a much greater degree than they know about the non-physical aspects. As the old saying goes, “If all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail”.

I enjoy and benefit from self-protection training, fighting and martial arts, but I think it is vitally important they are kept distinct from on another in both our training and our teaching.

All the best,

Iain

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