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Leigh Simms
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It wouldn't work against a trained fighter....

It Wouldn't Work Against a Trained Fighter by Leigh Simms

The title of this post is a comment which summaries an argument often used in attempt to discredit a karate technique or kata application and seen as a sort of coup de grace to end the discussion.

When I encounter this comment, my usual response is "I know the technique/application wouldn't work against a trained fighter".

Hearing this argument reminds me of another comment I hear when it comes to one of my other hobbies and past times, pro-wrestling. When ever my love for pro-wrestling is brought into a conversation, it is almost without fail that someone will proceed to tell me its "fake". I know it is, I get it, its part of why I enjoy pro-wrestling is the theatre, the drama and the fact the results are predetermined. Telling me that pro-wrestling is fake does not take away any of the enjoyment I have in watching it as the "fake" aspect is taken into consideration already. This is much the same as telling me a kata application won't work against a trained fighter, I likely already know this and it was taken into consideration when developing the application.

But admitting that the technique wouldn't work against a trained fighter is not a cop out nor does it reduce or lessen the quality of value of the technique in comparison with a technique which would work against a trained fighter. Let me explain why with an example of a counter to a standing front choke (aka guillotine choke), for sake of simplicity I will refer to this as "the choke" throughout the rest of this article.

The reason I have picked this technique is that it crosses the streams of both combat sports (it is a highly effective move in MMA, Judo and other grappling arts) as well as being a primal movement used by criminals and assailants during attempted muggings and assaults.

Common choke counters found in combat sports which involved closing the distance with the attacker, working gripping/clinching, transitioning to a throw, takedown or sweep and then once on the ground they look at removing the head from the choking arm as positional dominance is sought. There are lots of effective versions which can be found with a simple Google or YouTube search and if your goal is to 1vs1 consensual fighting where your aim is to submit or KO your opponent then these work great.

One of the first choke counters I teach is based on the situation being one of non-consensual violence, meaning violence I don't want to be apart of (criminals using violence to steal or assault others). For that reason the initial defence I teach involves remaining standing as best as possible, disengaging our arms with the enemies as so that we can strike whilst remaining on our feet as well as being unattached to the enemy so we are able to initiate a swift escape to a safer place.

If my go to move for the non-consensual violence situation was to just take the "consensual fighting" technique and use that, then I am getting my self connected to the enemy and making it harder for me to get away, I am also hoping that the ground I am about to drop to is relatively soft and free from sharp edges and debris.  I am also completely removing my sense of awareness as I am landing on the ground with my head still tucked into the enemy's arm - I am completely blind to the surroundings and better hope there are no third parties about to join in and stomp all over me or attack me with weapons - which happens and happens a lot more than we would probably think.

Before, you think I am bashing the first type of choke counter I described, I have two points to make. Firstly, of course it is true that if the initial technique failed, I would need to move to other counters which may not have as many upsides as I would like, therefore I may have to go to the ground - but it is still clear that doing this is not the preferred option and is not what I would be using as my "go-to" counter.

Secondly is that if I was in a dojo and it was 1vs1 and I was trying to win the fight, then I may well use the consensual fighting technique first as I don't have to worry about all the things I mentioned earlier (ground condition, lack of sight, third parties joining in and so on...).

To be crystal clear, I am not saying that the aforementioned consensual fighting counter is bad. Both counters work but they work for their specific environments and there is no hierarchy whereby the technique which works against the trained fighter is better than the one used for civilian self-protection. Both techniques are designed to work great in their own environments where the outcomes are different and therefore specific tactics used to achieve these outcomes will also be different.

Choki Motobu is quoted as saying “The techniques of kata have their limits and were never intended to be used against an opponent in an arena or on a battlefield”, maybe we need to remind each other of this and that a similar quote could be written for the techniques of combat sports when taking out of their natural environment of a consensual violence.

Leigh Simms Progressive Karate

Zach Zinn
Zach Zinn's picture

Great points. I always think that's a funny line of argument anyway. What "works" against a professional fighter is a moving target anyway. I remember early MMA where people would routinely pull off armbars from the mount, how often do we see them anymore in top level fights? Remember when no one thought Karate style snap kicks worked in MMA? I do. Now they are everywhere, every time someone talks about what "won't work" against skilled fighers, some skilled fighter figures out how to do it. If you watch Japanese MMA events, with different rulesets and different training than is typical for Western MMA, you often see very different tendencies, what "works" is different. Heck, within my own lifetime the sport Karate I grew up doing evolved into something almost unrecognizable in places. Jack Dempsey bemoans the "flicker Jab" but it's standard material in the  boxing of today. Skilled fighters vs. skilled fighter is it's own  (often pretty baroque) equation, which doesn't reflect habitual violence at all. It amazes me that people still make this sort of objection today given all these things, but that's the internet for ya.

In fact, the guillotine choke itself used to be -much- more effective in early MMA than it is now. I mean, there was a time where people won fights with it quite frequently. Now it has been around long enough that it fails to do anything but stall the fight a percentage of the time, people still win with it, but it isn't the tool it once was for "skilled fighters" in MMA anyway, BJJ etc. I have no idea. So, another example of "what works against a skilled fighter" changing as a sport evolves and shifts.

I always go back to Iain's martial map...another great example of this is teaching people how to deal with the mount, shrimping out of the mount is much easier in a pure grappling context, and we do it,it teaches some important things. For self defense though it can be pretty dangerous, so the buck and roll is arguably more sensible. As long as we know what's what, it's cool to do and play both.

deltabluesman
deltabluesman's picture

Some good points made in this thread.  I think you're right that this kind of argument is usually intended to end the discussion.  I've also seen plenty of instances where people move the goal posts.  For example: 

  • "That will never work in MMA" becomes
  • "OK, so it worked in a few amateur matches, but it won't work against a properly trained fighter" becomes
  • "OK, it worked in the UFC, but that fighter was a special case and you couldn't do it" becomes
  • "OK, it may work for professional athletes, but you're not a professional athlete, so you shouldn't be messing with it." 

In other words, even if you satisfy their criteria (i.e., showing an example where it worked against a trained fighter), it's usually not enough to change their mind.  But I guess that's pretty common in a lot of arguments.

I personally do consider combat sports to be a useful source of information about a technique's effectiveness/reliability in other contexts, but I think it's only a piece of the puzzle.  A full picture of a technique's usefulness requires a study of the context and (if feasible) relentless pressure testing.  It's usually a case-by-case analysis.  

Another thing that I think is helpful is rephrasing the question.  People often ask:  Does this technique work in self-defense/MMA/BJJ/etc.?  But the problem is that the word "work" doesn't indicate that we're talking about probabilities.  A better way to approach the question might be something like:  "Is this technique likely to help me accomplish my goals in self-defense/MMA/BJJ/etc.?"  And we could imagine a lot of ways in which this changes the analysis.  Or maybe something like:  "Is this technique usually the best tool for this person in this situation in this context?" 

It's an art, not a science, and the answer will change a lot depending on the facts.

But yes, I agree that we shouldn't discard a technique just because it won't work against a trained fighter.

Zach Zinn
Zach Zinn's picture

deltabluesman wrote:

I personally do consider combat sports to be a useful source of information about a technique's effectiveness/reliability in other contexts, but I think it's only a piece of the puzzle.  A full picture of a technique's usefulness requires a study of the context and (if feasible) relentless pressure testing.  It's usually a case-by-case analysis. 

In places it sure is. I mean we can look at MMA and know the relative effectiveness of simple techniques like elbows, knees, punches etc.,  the importance of high percentage, gross motor striking approaches, and other things of a general nature, the importance of takedown defense, angles, etc. On the other hand, MMA is far more diagnostic than non-consensual violence is. That's even truer for more limited combat sports which have a more limited set of techniques than MMA does. Boxing for example has physical skills at close range that would seem to transfer directly to self defense, long range slipping, bobbing, weaving, jabbing and peek a boo guards on the other hand are barely relevant to non consensual violence at all. I mean we can quibble over details, but most combat sports are about fighting against another person using the exact same skillset (MMA is somewhat exceptional here because competitors might have different specializations), which is pretty far removed from the chaotic nature of non consensual violence. I still remember spending forever on how to deal with a turtled opponent in Judo, completely irrelevant to self defense.

Now, the place where the success of the combat sport approach is -indisputable- is training a focused set of "live" techniques against a progressively resisting opponent. This is indeed the verifiably best way to get good at whatever you are doing, and I think we can probably all agree that traditional martial artists should be doing more of this. I'll admit that while pressure testing has been a part of my methodology for a while, I could do more, and can learn more about how to do this well by observing adn experiencing MMA and combat sport training methods. I am taking up boxing when lockdown ends largely for this purpose, in the hopes that it lends similar insights to what Judo did to my practice of Karate.

e wrote:
Another thing that I think is helpful is rephrasing the question.  People often ask:  Does this technique work in self-defense/MMA/BJJ/etc.?  But the problem is that the word "work" doesn't indicate that we're talking about probabilities.  A better way to approach the question might be something like:  "Is this technique likely to help me accomplish my goals in self-defense/MMA/BJJ/etc.?"  And we could imagine a lot of ways in which this changes the analysis.  Or maybe something like:  "Is this technique usually the best tool for this person in this situation in this context?" 

It's an art, not a science, and the answer will change a lot depending on the facts.

But yes, I agree that we shouldn't discard a technique just because it won't work against a trained fighter.

Like I said, in some places what "works" in a combat sport will be the same as what 'works" in self defense, in others, not at all. The ranged game that virtually every standup combat sport plays for example (including sport Karate forms) bears little to no relevance to chaotic violence, which looks more like this:

 

In situations such as this, you -cannot- rely on diagnostic responses to trained attacks, which is precisely what the "trained fighter" referenced will do - at least in places. They are simply far less relevant to situations such as the above. So while I agree that all combat sports have some real nuggets for self defense, they are set up for different purposes. As people trying to make Karate more functional I think we should approach their methods with an open mind, while being clear about whatever our own purposes are in training, and if they are to develop solid self defense skils, we should go in the direction of things like non-diagnostic flinch response followed by agression and escape..as one example. While this crosses paths with MMA/Combat Sport, it is a somewhat different approach, even if we leave out the specific differences in tactics, the psychological and physiological response to non-consensual violence is -so different- in my experience that any training which does not address these things cannot be said to be primarily about "self defense".

That being said, to bring this back around "that will/won't work against a trained fighter" is what I call Internet Bullshitter Talk. Basically it is the kind of thing that (usually young and enthusiastic) combat sport proponents will say on the internet to prove what is really an ideological argument of theirs, not a rational one. In my experience more mature practitioners on the other hand (including other proponents of the same combat sports) tend to have a more nuanced view, and usually will listen to reason and will even be willing to help on the quest to imrpove one's Karate, at least in my limited experience. The other end of this of course is traditional martial artists who deny any relevancy to combat sport based on "the street", "deadly techniques", etc.

Another thing we can say here is that nearly any trained fighter could take their skillset and apply it in the self defense arena if they trained for that, and it would likely not even be a particulary difficult crossover for some of them, given their already exceptional levels of physical skill. However, unless they are doing that, then it is not self defense training, but something else. I have noticed over the last few years a lot more MMA guys paying attention to people like Tony Blauer, etc...which tells me that at least some of these skilled fighters are willing to entertain that there is a real dichotomy here, because it is based on a rational, fairly evidence-based argument, not an ideology.

I;ve found that it is worth talking to people who have actually operated around real world violence as a vocation, they tend to have a lot less ideological and more practical approach to "what works"..because for them it is not theoretical, and they have such a larger database of encounters to draw from than most of us do. It really drives home the point that responding to it is a different, but sometimes overlapping study with martial arts or combat sport,  it's definitely it's own animal.

On this subject, there are a couple of threads in the self defense section about the MMA fighter who recently suffered a home invasion. The interview is worth listening to and really sums up some of the differences, particularly with regard to the emotional and psychological stuff.

deltabluesman
deltabluesman's picture

Yes, I think that's the right way to look at it.  We may disagree on some of the details, but overall we're probably on the same page.

I personally place a heavy emphasis on individual risk assessments when thinking about self-protection.  This is something I've come to focus on more in recent months.  It's my current view that the umbrella terms of "self protection" or "non-consensual violence" are too broad to be of much use in guiding training at the individual level.  Instead, it's more important for individuals to look at the risks in their own life (based on their environment, their family, their friends, their own vices, etc.) and focus on self-protection training that is tailored specifically to those goals. 

So while we should prepare for the risk of a sudden ambush by multiple enemies (as you show in the video), we also have to look at the other risks that could plausibly show up in our lifetime, and we have to make decisions about how to manage those risks with our self-protection training and skill set.  I won't go too far in depth on this, because I don't want to derail the thread, but my key point is that self-protection is a broad umbrella term that can cover a wide variety of problems and solutions.  That's why I say that combat sports are a piece of the puzzle when it comes to preparing for those risks, but that it requires a case-by-case analysis.

I agree with you about the problems that come with trying to use martial arts (or combat sports) as a map of what will happen in a self-protection situation.  However, I can say that a significant portion of my training partners (pre-quarantine) were police officers and current or former military.  Pretty much all of them believe that combat sports are an essential part of serious self-protection training.  They have stronger opinions on this than I do, and they have more experience with violence than I do.  I think the reason they make this argument is because they are focusing on the need for live practice against resistance and because they are focusing on the mindset benefits that come from combat sports competition.  Those are things that could certainly be done in a pragmatic traditional martials arts school, of course.

Lastly, it's worth mentioning that in many regions, combat sports schools will be the best option available.  I think that's true for me . . .  I've only found a few schools in my area that offer effective self-protection classes and all of them include combat sports as part of the curriculum.  The idea is that you build a base using the combat sports, then attend a specialized self-protection class to focus on applying that skill set against non-consensual violence.  It may not be the best way to approach the problem, but you make do with what you have.

Just my two cents.

Zach Zinn
Zach Zinn's picture

deltabluesman wrote:

Yes, I think that's the right way to look at it.  We may disagree on some of the details, but overall we're probably on the same page.

I personally place a heavy emphasis on individual risk assessments when thinking about self-protection.  This is something I've come to focus on more in recent months.  It's my current view that the umbrella terms of "self protection" or "non-consensual violence" are too broad to be of much use in guiding training at the individual level.  Instead, it's more important for individuals to look at the risks in their own life (based on their environment, their family, their friends, their own vices, etc.) and focus on self-protection training that is tailored specifically to those goals. 

So while we should prepare for the risk of a sudden ambush by multiple enemies (as you show in the video), we also have to look at the other risks that could plausibly show up in our lifetime, and we have to make decisions about how to manage those risks with our self-protection training and skill set.  I won't go too far in depth on this, because I don't want to derail the thread, but my key point is that self-protection is a broad umbrella term that can cover a wide variety of problems and solutions.  That's why I say that combat sports are a piece of the puzzle when it comes to preparing for those risks, but that it requires a case-by-case analysis.

Oh i'm in total agreement here, I was being a bit myopic with posting the prison attack video because we were talking physical skills, and one place where this discussion always goes haywire is simply on the understanding of how physical skills should probably differ for an environment involving this sort of violence. I agree that 90% of this stuff is non-physical. Doing that in my own  class has been quite a challenge and I want to move more in direction of "individual risk assessment" and am trying to work out how to do that exactly for the self-defense component. The self defense component makes up only a portion of what I try to do with my own my class, which is, at heart a Karate class. So if I'm coming off as a bit over dramatic or violence-obsessed, sorry. I am just an average Karate guy trying to work this stuff out.

e wrote:

I agree with you about the problems that come with trying to use martial arts (or combat sports) as a map of what will happen in a self-protection situation.  However, I can say that a significant portion of my training partners (pre-quarantine) were police officers and current or former military.  Pretty much all of them believe that combat sports are an essential part of serious self-protection training.  They have stronger opinions on this than I do, and they have more experience with violence than I do.  I think the reason they make this argument is because they are focusing on the need for live practice against resistance and because they are focusing on the mindset benefits that come from combat sports competition.  Those are things that could certainly be done in a pragmatic traditional martials arts school, of course.

Almost every cop I talked to when younger said everyone should box. Even my competitive Karate when I was younger I feel built certain things that are quite valuable in this area. Still, training which does not address the lead up to violence, pre emptive striking, risk assessment, escape and all these sorts of things is not geared towards self defense, if that's what someone is after. Even if it makes someone an amazing or just competent fighter, this does not make up for the lack of the other stuff, again if self defense is the goal. The LEO people I've known and discussed such things would agree with this I think, and I don't think it should be controversial. Many people wanting self defense instruction will not train like combat athletes anyway, so in a sense the point is moot, for better or worse. I often think that part of the "individual assessment" for self-defense should be just how much someone is willing to be mentally, emotionally, and physically uncomfortable to learn such skills. This seems to vary greatly with age, among other demographics. While some exposure to discomfort and the live physics of this stuff is neccessary, I am also not sure that all people need the level of contact or involvement that comes from a sombat sport to obtain reasonable self defense skills either.

e wrote:

Lastly, it's worth mentioning that in many regions, combat sports schools will be the best option available.  I think that's true for me . . .  I've only found a few schools in my area that offer effective self-protection classes and all of them include combat sports as part of the curriculum.  The idea is that you build a base using the combat sports, then attend a specialized self-protection class to focus on applying that skill set against non-consensual violence.  It may not be the best way to approach the problem, but you make do with what you have.

Just my two cents.

No disagreement here, and it -may- actually be the best way to approach the problem. An MMA approach geared towards self-protection (and the stuff that entails) may very well might be the quickest way to such a goal. In fact, I'd suspect that it is the quickest way - particularly if a person is really willing to 'stand in the fire" and do something like scenario training in High Gear or similar. I am not sure that is most people seeking self defense, or even most martial artists though. My class for instance does live work and pressure testing, but will likely never bring someone to the level of contact or consistency of fully live practice that an MMA class would, it simply isn't geared for that.

I am of course coming at it from a traditional Karate perspective, and was probably being overly academic. At any rate, to be clear, I was not trying to claim that combat sports are ineffective for self defense, or that they cannot be, that would be a silly assertion. I was addressing some very particular arguments I often see online regarding these things, in the context of the "skilled fighter" from the original post, and making the point that self-defense has very little to do with responding to "skilled fighters", or you might say the sorts of things involved in self-defense areabout  a different sort of "skilled fighter" altogether. i,.e. one utilizing effective criminal behavior (deception, grooming, whatever) rather than a particular martial arts skillset.

This sort of "skillset" is something I actually do have direct personal experience of being on the receiving end of a few times in my life, and I do feel that quite often the martial arts world sees a criminal "unskilled fighter" as not being a threat, which is is a serious, grevious error in thinking about self defense. The people you need to worry about are not going to attack with martial arts skills, it is again, a  different skillset entirely that they are using.

Again sorry to beat a dead horse, Iain and others covered this stuff inside and out, and I was really just thinking aloud, which I should probably do less of.

Zach Zinn
Zach Zinn's picture

Just to bring this back to the original post after my derailment, sorry again, I guess lockdown is making me babble:

I was watching youtube today and I kept getting this ad for a program which supposedly tests knife defense, you may have seen it. I went ahead and signed up for the "free offer" as this is a particular interest of mine and I was interested in particular to see how they were testing the techniques. Anyway, I cannot tell the what the program itself is like (i'm not gonna pay for the full deal), but the gentleman teaching it (an ex MMA fighter I guess) makes a comment that I think encapsulates part of the issue here:

At one point he says something like "If this works againsts a skilled opponent, it'll work even better against some average joe that doesn't know what they are doing". He goes on to imply that the program is based on this notion.

I hear this sentiment a lot on the internet as regards self defense, in my opinion it is deeply mistaken, for a whole host of reasons.

Ill leave it here and just see if people agree or disagree. Is this in fact a reasonable statement, will something that works against a skilled fighter work better in self defense against Someone With No Idea What They Are Doing? Further, are we worried about defending ourselves from Someone With No Idea What They Are Doing, if so..why?

I see a serious error in the basic premise here, what do you think?

deltabluesman
deltabluesman's picture

(In response to post #6):

Yes, I see what you mean.  I agree 100% and appreciate you sharing your thoughts on it.  I am always struggling to strike the right balance between personal enjoyment, health and wellness, and self-protection.  I also agree that it's important to tailor live training to the needs of the individual (easier said than done, I know).  At the risk of stating it too simply:  it's my belief that the most important aspect of live training is developing the student's fighting mindset.  Even if the live training is restricted (for safety reasons, or due to space/equipment, whatever it is), I think a lot of benefits can still be gained by forcing students outside of their comfort zone and building their ability to endure/persevere.  As best I can tell, this mindset, coupled with:

• an understanding of criminal violence,

• an individualized "risk assessment", and

• work on developing the soft skills that you mentioned

. . . will go a long way in terms of starting an effective self-protection program.  And then the other details can be added as time and safety permit.  

An interesting discussion!   

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Hi All,

Zach Zinn wrote:
At one point he says something like "If this works againsts a skilled opponent, it'll work even better against some average joe that doesn't know what they are doing". He goes on to imply that the program is based on this notion.

I hear this sentiment a lot on the internet as regards self defense, in my opinion it is deeply mistaken, for a whole host of reasons.

Totally agree. This is a pet peeve of mine on two fronts: It’s bad self-protection and it’s illogical.

Regardless of the specific problem, we can only come up with a good solution if we understand the problem sufficiently. Incorrectly equating the problem with something else is sure to lead to disaster.

We’d all acknowledge that it would be ridiculous of me to state that the kind of driving we see in rallying works against competitive drivers, and therefore it’s the way we should all drive on the morning school run. However, the same thinking is ubiquitous in the martial arts world. Some will say that not a valid comparison … but it is! They only reason they think it’s not is because they don’t fully understand the nature of self-protection.

“Defeating a fellow combat athlete in a consensual fight” is not the same as “Avoid harm from criminal activity”. They are two different problems and therefore require two different solutions.

People point to combat sports because they pressure test, and while I agree pressure testing is vital, combat sports pressure test for the wrong things. Combat sports for self-protection makes as much sense as training in BJJ when you want to be a boxer. Sure, BJJ has pressure testing, but it tests differing methods to a differing end.

Combat sports have their own inherent value and if people are training in them for the benefits they bring, while also training for self-protection, then they will be able to contextualise the small crossover to self-protection. However, the goal has changed, the strategy therefore changes, the tactics change, and the selection of techniques also changes. The crossover is pretty small.

Zach Zinn wrote:
Ill leave it here and just see if people agree or disagree. Is this in fact a reasonable statement, will something that works against a skilled fighter work better in self defense against Someone With No Idea What They Are Doing? Further, are we worried about defending ourselves from Someone With No Idea What They Are Doing, if so..why?

I think statements like this – which are common – are something of a strawman argument that also have an underlying martial arts bias.

A criminal DOES know what they are doing when it comes to criminal action. The fact they are untrained in martial arts does not mean “they don’t know what they are doing”. They do. I feel there is an underlying martial arrogance here i.e. “we are the yardstick by which all others should be measured” and “if you can beat us, you can beat anyone”. They fail to grasp the criminal is not playing the “same game”.

As one of my instructors states, martial artists are like chess players who sits down for a game and then are shocked when the “other side” throws the pieces at them and tries to smash their head in with the board. The martial artist remains the best “chess player”, but the other side was not playing chess.

The problem is the martial artist does not know what the criminal is doing because they assume they will act like martial artists (insert Sun Tzu’s “know your enemy” quote here) . To say, “the criminal does not know what they are doing” because they have an expectation of action from their own myopic position is highly problematic.

Bottomline, Untrained in X does not mean unskilled in Y. Likewise, trained in X does not trump highly experienced in Y.

All the best,

Iain

deltabluesman
deltabluesman's picture

Hi Iain,

Really appreciate the input.  I think I understand what you're saying, but I would like to clarify a few of the details.  As I see it, the cross-over from combat sports to self-protection is small, but that's because (a) self-protection is about so much more than physical skills and (b) combat sports include a wide range of extra material that isn't needed for self-protection.    

In my experience, reputable firearms schools are actually one of the better places in the USA to learn self-protection skills (even for people don't want to carry a firearm).  This is because they teach awareness, avoidance, justified use of force, de-escalation, and so on.  A person could train for self-protection and go a long way without ever focusing on unarmed combat.  (Indeed, it has to be that way, otherwise we couldn't teach self-protection to populations whose physical attributes prevent them from participating in unarmed combat training.)

But once a person reaches the point where they are engaging in physical self-protection training that involves things like straight punches and simple groundfighting, I think the combat sports parallels become more relevant.  The goals are different, but the fundamentals tend to have important overlap.  And for certain populations, I think that can be very important.  For example, we have some female MMA fighters at our school who are very skilled.  They are capable of outgrappling most of the male students.  This has nothing to do with exploiting trained responses from trained fighters; they are even more effective against untrained opponents.  They are able to apply their skills against both.

This is where there is an important cross-over between the combat sports and self-protection realms.  I don't see how you replicate similar levels of awareness and skill without undergoing a similar kind of training process over a long period of time.  Similarly, if we're talking about landing strong strikes against the head of a moving enemy, the parallels between striking sports and self-protection become more relevant. 

As different as they are, there are certain benefits (in terms of awareness, body positioning, instinct, etc.) that come from consistent combat sports training.  And while I don't think they're essential for self-protection, I do think they're useful for specific populations.

If I understand correctly, you're making the point that the cross-over from combat sports to self-protection is small.  If a person is going to study the physical side of self-protection, then it's therefore best to do a similar kind of live training against resistance, but in a training format that is directly based on the actual context (with the goals of escape, with the risk of multiple enemies, and so on . . . )  So I would agree with that completely.  Especially because you'll be able to devote 100% of your training time to the skills you actually need.

But I don't think that kind of training is available in most regions of the USA yet, so in the meantime, I think combat sports are a decent alternative for some populations.

Am I on the right track?  Or did I miss an important detail?

deltabluesman
deltabluesman's picture

I'm going to supplement my previous post with one more comment, because I think it may help to give a specific example.  Since this thread is about defense against a guillotine choke, I'll focus on that technique.  First, as I see it, guillotine choke defense is a priority for healthy males who are in school.  You see this position all the time in playground scuffles, and kids need to know how to get out of it.  (Tragically, we recently had a local example of a teenger/young man dying in a fight because this kind of choke was held too long.)  Boys and men in that age group need to know options that involve striking but they probably also need less-lethal options (for multiple reasons).  As we get older, it's less important to know how to defend against this particular choke.  For older female students, I suspect we could probably move it to the bottom of the list.  And for anyone who has preexisting neck injuries, we could take it out of live training entirely. 

It's a case-by-case basis, but I would argue that a person who wants to teach guillotine choke defense using live resistance has an actual moral obligation to study how it's trained in combat sports.  Not for the sake of learning about counters and trained responses, but in order to see how to train this safely.  As someone who has suffered a significant neck injury in the past, I can say that I am very cautious about training guillotines in class.  I only do it with people I trust and I will actually bow out of a class if I see them being taught unsafely.  Way too easy to get hurt (especially if someone wraps you up in a guillotine and then falls backward, causing you to spike your head on the floor).  I've also heard of serious neck injuries where people try a double leg against a guillotine and go the wrong direction.

So in this case, combat sports are essential because they provide data on safe training methods.  It's not enough to rely on our own school's methods and experience, because we may not have enough experience to know all of the risks.  

But it's my opinion that the guillotine choke is sort of a unique animal in this regard.  Other techniques would be completely different and there'd be no cross-over.  In my view, it's a case-by-case analysis.

I'm not sure whether this post is helpful or not, but I thought I'd add it to the discussion as a concrete example. 

Zach Zinn
Zach Zinn's picture

deltabluesman wrote:

 

But once a person reaches the point where they are engaging in physical self-protection training that involves things like straight punches and simple groundfighting, I think the combat sports parallels become more relevant.  The goals are different, but the fundamentals tend to have important overlap.  And for certain populations, I think that can be very important.  For example, we have some female MMA fighters at our school who are very skilled.  They are capable of outgrappling most of the male students.  This has nothing to do with exploiting trained responses from trained fighters; they are even more effective against untrained opponents.  They are able to apply their skills against both.

 

 

I think you made some good and very interesting points here, but I want to take isssue with this particlar bit of logic, as it is illustrative of where the disagreement lies. The female MMA fighters are in fact engaging completely in training which involves trained responses, because that's what most grappling is. You could break it down to it's bear essentials and argue that understanding of position is universal, but the way the MMA fighters in your example are applying is 100% martial artist vs martial artist, and this is quite different from how "grappling" as such tends to exist in violent encounters in my opinion. One obvious example is (I assume) they are often grappling for submission rather than regaining their feet, and this your metric for winning. I assume they've likely done both, but these are quite different things. This is a basic tactical example, a larger example of how these things are different is simply an observation:

It often takes multiple officers to subdue a person who really does not want to be grappled, even a completely unskilled one. Someone really flailing around violently, erratically, and with the full force of their fast twitch muscles, perhaps with some kind of weapon is not something that happens in most grappling matches. The same rule applies in mental hospitals etc. where people must be subdued, it's a radically different environment and often even people with training will need two to three people to subdue someone - even a person their own size, let alone someone larger. I have  a friend who works in one that literally was trying to develop (I was there for part of the brainstorming) a setup where three to four people could subdue someone, each one controlling a limb. It is that hard to control someone who does not want to be controlled and is likely in fight or flight mode in these situations. can you imagine the success rate of someone pulling guard, trying to establish positional dominance, etc.?

It's not that those things won't exist, but the context is radically different. The guard becomes a stopgap measure against being mounted, and not much else, it's a bad position to be in, just not as bad as others. your chances of dominating someone by keeping the mount the way you would in the gym (and this is true even of your female fighters I am sure, someone who is strong enough and enough bigger than you is difficult to maintain the mount on, even with skill disparity, in a controlled environment) The environment completely changes what "works" in grappling, because priorities are radically different.

So I think you are underestimating the differences between what is going on in the gym and application of grappling against violence, particularly as regards their size. I randoried with a female judoka who could pretty much throw me at will, but a lot of that advantage would be gone in a chaotic. violent situation simply due to my weight, strength advantage, and experience with violence. What you are seeing in the gym is that advantage being nullified not only by the MMA fighters skills (because that is certainly a part of it) but also by the very environment of the training which is setup to pit skill vs. skill, becase that's what martial arts training and competition is meant to do - level the playing field so that people can test their skills against one another. That level playing field is usually out the window if we want to talk about real situations.

Being able to "outgrapple" a larger opponent is an impressive test of skill, but that's what it is - a test of skill-. Some of the same physics principles apply in any engagement, but the terrain (physically, emotionally, all of that) is so radically different that an assumption of success like that would be foolhardy, or rather, "success" would be a completely different animal than it is in the gym. I would ask what your measure of "outgrapple" is, because if you mean they are hunting submissions and getting them more frequently, this is barely relevant for grappling outside a gym. More relevant would be ability to maintain positional dominance. For instance, the guard in a self defense situation is not the same thing strategically as it is in a grappling match, but it is what most smaller people will have to default to - and might even do so willingly if their goal is finding submissions- this is a disadvantage self defense wise, which is not apparent in the gym unless it's being trained that way.

So, these fighters have more than the requisite physical skills needed to train for such an environment should they want to, I'm sure they are highly skilled and they deserve credit for the hard work they have done in that area. However, I do not accept that because they beat larger opponents in gym submission grappling contests and training they are now equipped to physically grapple against large assailants in violent encounters, and certainly not that they are equipped for self defense because they can do this. The assumption that they are would be a dangerous one, for a bunch of reasons.

On that subject, the focus here on physical aspects only obscures the fact that the kind of violence women are in the most danger of (likely sexual assault and domestic violence) are their own deal, and need to be addressed quite specfically. When you look into these things, the idea that they are safe because they can outgrapple a larger opponent in the gym is largely irrelevant, because 99% of what's needed has nothing to do with matching skill vs. skill with their assailant. Again, here the assailant has a different kind of skill than what they are working against in the gym.

There are many example of women who experience domestic despite their MMA, grappling and boxing training, do some Googling on it if you want to know more. This is, of course not an issue of their physical skills neccessarily, but that is the point. I'm not saying this to belittle these women either, combat athletes are impressive, and people who are willing to enage in that kind of training are doing something that is both physically impressive, builds impeccable character traits, and helps to develop their sport, all that.

 

deltabluesman
deltabluesman's picture

Yes, this is helpful.  So let me clarify what I am saying vs. what I'm not saying.  It's not my intention to suggest that the training those MMA fighters do in the gym (or even in the cage) is going to be identical to, or even much like, the kinds of conflict we see in non-consensual violence.  So for example, let's say one of these female MMA fighters takes a job as a prison guard and is ambushed (just like we saw in the video).  Apples and oranges, night and day . . . there's no almost cross-over, other than the fact that she's built an incredible fighting mindset and can persevere in bad situations.

However, what I am saying is that self-protection includes a wide range of scenarios of varying degrees of severity.  There is no one example of real-world grappling that we can use to compare to MMA grappling.  Instead, there's unprovoked criminal violence from strangers, there's domestic violence, there's drunk guy-at-a-party violence, there's mental patient violence, there's crazy guy on the subway violence, and so on.  

My point is just that when the two realms do cross over, the lessons of combat sports can become relevant.  For example, I believe a complete self-protection program for women would have to involve some degree of groundfighting and some degree of escaping from holds.  If I take two random women (a professional MMA fighter vs. someone with zero experience of combat sports and only limited self-protection training), I'm saying that the years of experience in grappling and striking will have a major difference.  But how much of a difference depends on exactly what's going on.  It's a case-by-case analysis.  As part of that analysis, it's essential for us to consider things like levels of resistance, strength and weight differences, and whether our training is exploiting trained responses. 

I'm 100% in agreement that violence outside the gym is totally different than violence inside the gym.  I've seen and experienced both on multiple occasions.  The key (for me) is figuring out how best to assess and prepare for those risks.  I think a self-protection program that pays no attention to combat sports is likely to fall short of its full potential.

Zach Zinn
Zach Zinn's picture

I don't mean to be controversial but:

https://nypost.com/2018/06/15/ufc-fighter-who-survived-domestic-abuse-ri...

https://www.mmanews.com/ufc-fighter-rachael-ostovich-attacked-police-inv...

https://www.sherdog.com/news/articles/Beyond-The-Cage-The-UFCs-Domestic-...

So, if a woman is wanting to study self protection, the place is must start is likely one's victim profile. Women in general have to walk around in a much more dangerous world than men do, sad as that is. This is as true for female fighters as anyone else. So the issue is barely about physical skills. In the cases that it is (such as being able to escape the mount etc.) then you are correct, these fighters will have an advantage in physical skill.

e wrote:
I think a self-protection program that pays no attention to combat sports is likely to fall short of its full potential.

I think it depends on what you mean. I think that pretty much any martial artist should pay very close attention to the training methodology of MMA/combat sport, it has completely revolutionalized martial arts and we would be crazy not to heed it, including it's training innovations and development.

However, similarly if people want their martial art, or a part of their martial art to involve self-protection than we should take whatever lessons can be learned from MMA and attempt to apply them -in that training environment-, and we should not confuse the two with bad arguments like "well this worked against a trained opponent so it will work easily against an untrained person"...this is a dangerous way of thinking if avoidance and awareness of non consensual violence is someone's goal. hopefully we've established that?

 

deltabluesman
deltabluesman's picture

So I think I may have responded to an earlier version of your post, because there's a few things I didn't notice on the first read-through.  No big deal . . . let me add a bit of information here.  I am not saying that just because the female MMA fighters beat larger opponents in the gym that they are now equipped to physically grapple against large assailants in violent encounters.  Not at all.  What I am saying is that it is a precentage/probability analysis, and that in some situations, they have a higher probability of success.  I try not to use the terms like "safe" or "works" because they give the impression that success is guaranteed or even likely.  On my perspective, it really depends on what we're talking about. 

These women are in their early twenties.  Is a drunk guy at a party going to force one of them into a room and physically assault her?  That's very unlikely.  If she's ambushed in a parking lot by two hardened felons, will she escape unharmed?  Highly doubtful.  If she's attacked in a hallway by a stalker, will she escape unharmed?  It depends on the stalker.  That's my way of approaching the subject.  At the end of the day, all we can do is take reasonable precautions based on the risks that we are likely to face.

With this in mind, this is why I say that combat sports are a piece of the puzzle, but nothing more.  I'm just saying that once we're talking about physical skills, they become relevant.  And in my opinion, by grappling on a weekly basis with large male athletes (some trained in combat sports, some not), these female MMA fighters will gain important skills that will carry over to certain parts of the physical self-protection puzzle.  These skills are relevant in a similar way to how certain kata techniques (like the throws in Heian Sandan or the limb control we see in many kata) and supporting skills are a part of the physical self-protection puzzle.

I watched and enjoyed Iain's recent Youtube video on this subject.  I may be overlooking something, but after watching the video, I feel like I'm 99% in agreement with what was said.  

Generally speaking, it's not my belief that what works against a trained attacker will work also always against an untrained attacker.  At the risk of beating a dead horse, I believe that it depends on the situation.

Zach Zinn
Zach Zinn's picture

deltabluesman wrote:

 

These women are in their early twenties.  Is a drunk guy at a party going to force one of them into a room and physically assault her?  That's very unlikely.  If she's ambushed in a parking lot by two hardened felons, will she escape unharmed?  Highly doubtful.  If she's attacked in a hallway by a stalker, will she escape unharmed?  It depends on the stalker.  That's my way of approaching the subject.  At the end of the day, all we can do is take reasonable precautions based on the risks that we are likely to face.

Their "success" or lack thereof in those situations would be 90% unrelated to physical skill, and is mostly related to whether or not they've shined awareness on those areas in their training.

e wrote:

With this in mind, this is why I say that combat sports are a piece of the puzzle, but nothing more.  I'm just saying that once we're talking about physical skills, they become relevant.  And in my opinion, by grappling on a weekly basis with large male athletes (some trained in combat sports, some not), these female MMA fighters will gain important skills that will carry over to certain parts of the physical self-protection puzzle.

I watched and enjoyed Iain's recent Youtube video on this subject.  I may be overlooking something, but after watching the video, I feel like I'm 99% in agreement with what was said. 

Again, if they are grappling for submission vs. larger opponents in  matches, this is pretty radically different than training grappling skills for self defense. That doesn't make it irrelevant at all, but saying that this makes them more prepared is sort of like saying that a football player is more prepared for fights involving tackling. You are probably right, but it is more about their personal attributes than the intended direction of the training. So, I agree that combat sport training would generally prepare someone more for such things than not doing it - of course, but that does not mean combat sport training is geared towards these things - again, a football or rugby player might have similar advantages in attrbutes and development in many situations.

This is an important distuinction to me, particularly because most of the people in need of self defense training will never be combat athletes.

deltabluesman
deltabluesman's picture

Yes, I completely agree that in most situations, success will be unrelated to their physical skill.  Completely agree.  I don't think it always boils down to a lack of awareness . . . bad things happen despite our best efforts, and I don't want to seem to attach too much blame to the victim in these situations.  But I am focusing on physical skills here, because this thread is an example of how to train for guillotine chokes in the self-protection context. 

And no, they are not always grappling for submission.  Sometimes they grapple for submission, sometimes we just do takedown defense rounds, sometimes we do "escape from the ground" rounds, and we also do a lot of other drills as well.  I don't want to rely too heavily on the female MMA fighters as an example . . . I was just mentioning them briefly to illustrate my points from an earlier post.  I don't know how much self-protection training they do alongside their professional MMA work, so I couldn't speak to their exact situation.

I think I'm generally onboard with what you're saying, but we may have to agree to disagree on some of these points.  I'm on board with the fact that most self-protection does not require unarmed combat.  That's part of the reason I don't worry so much about whether I include highly specific, tailored self-protection training in my weekly routine.

I will insist that grappling on a weekly basis against large male athletes (some trained, some not) has a beneficial carry-over to physical forms of self-protection training.  A much bigger carryover than just playing football or rugby.  Your mileage may vary, and that's fine.  It does leave gaps . . . there's no doubt about it.  And yes, it would be possible to make it far more effective for self-protection (by focusing exclusively on those skills).  But at the end of the day, you make do with what you have, and I think that form of training is a useful piece of the puzzle.  That's all.

Still, a worthwhile discussion.  I will likely bow out of this one, unless someone would like me to clarify a particular point. 

Zach Zinn
Zach Zinn's picture

deltabluesman wrote:

 

[b]I will insist that grappling on a weekly basis against large male athletes (some trained, some not) has a beneficial carry-over to physical forms of self-protection training.  A much bigger carryover than just playing football or rugby. [/b] Your mileage may vary, and that's fine.  It does leave gaps . . . there's no doubt about it.  And yes, it would be possible to make it far more effective for self-protection (by focusing exclusively on those skills).  But at the end of the day, you make do with what you have, and I think that form of training is a useful piece of the puzzle.  That's all.

 

Still, a worthwhile discussion.  I will likely bow out of this one, unless someone would like me to clarify a particular point. 

I tried to make it clear a number of times that I agreed that their skills would carry over to physical training for self defense, I should have been more clear. My issue was again with the blanket claim that grappling in the gym against larger opponents would give them an even larger advantage over the "untrained opponent" - which it sounded like you were asserting, and is part of the contention in this thread. There is no "untrained opponent" in violent encounters who is somehow less dangerous than a gym training partner because they don't know your triangle setup, etc. That specific notion is what I am taking issue with.

I provided what circumstantial evidence base I could (police and mental health workers dealing with subduing/grappling, the difference between the gaurd, etc.) to show why I believe that thought process is an error.

If I misunderstood the statement though, my apologies.

I get the feeling that you think I am making an "anti-MMA/Combat sport" argument, and at least from my perspective, it most certainly is not. Combat sport does not need to be defended because it is it's own worthwhile endeavor. I personally am about to start boxing training purely to improve and deepen my Karate, I explored Judo for the same reasons, so I think I may have created the impression that this is some kind of ideological thing rather than what it is.

I'm trying to keep it a purely an evidence-based argument on my part, inasmuch as evidence exists. I do not think MMA/Combat Sport is "less than" anything and in fact admire combat sports very much. I do think that specious arguments are worth addressing though, and the "it'll work even better against an untrained opponent" is such an argument often made in the combat sport world for justification as to why a different training paradigm is not needed for self defense training.

You can find all sorts of people making some variation of this argument on (for example) youtube. I like a lot of these people, I subscribe to their pages and pay particular attention to some of their training recommendations. I still think they are misguied when they make this argument.

deltabluesman
deltabluesman's picture

Ah, I see what you mean.  I should clarify.  I personally do not subscribe to the idea that just because it works well in the gym against trained opponents, it will always work even more effectively against untrained opponents.  So I'm on board with that part of your argument.  I even see this in the gym:  there are some skills that I have that work against trained opponents, but don't work at all when a brand new white belt walks in the door.  And the same principle certainly applies outside the gym.  Honestly, one of the most challenging parts of training (pre-quarantine) was dealing with brand new white belts.  They panic in bad positions, flail around, and generally cause more injuries.  So yes, an untrained opponent can be very dangerous (sometimes much more dangerous).  Also fully agree with the difficulty of trying to restrain a single person who doesn't want to be restrained.

Having said that, it does depend on the technique.  This is why it can be difficult to have general conversations about this.  I think we have to look at our primary techniques and say:  "OK, why have I chosen to do it this way?  What makes my way better than the way they handle it combat sports?  What part of this, if any, relies on a trained response?"  And so on.  

For me, I participate in combat sports because I enjoy them and because they help me live a healthier lifestyle.  I don't train in them primarily for self-protection.  The schools that I attend do teach combat sports as the base of self-protection.  I know that's not ideal, but I think it's the best available option in my circumstances.  I think there is some useful carry-over, and it's better (for me) than not training in combat sports.  However, when it comes to self-protection, the brunt of my focus is on things like awareness, avoidance, de-escalation, and use of firearms (where appropriate and legal).

This is why I think it's important to try and strike a balance on these matters.  If physical self-protection training isn't that important for a particular individual, then it doesn't so much matter whether they train in aikido, MMA, iaido, or combat sambo.  They can do whatever they want and supplement it with a reasonable focus on personal security tailored to their needs.  If physical self-protection training is important for an individual, then they need to figure out exactly how to pursue those goals, in a reasonable time frame, without developing bad habits.  A lot of people may feasibly decide that they can meet their self-protection goals with almost no training in unarmed combat, and that's workable. 

On the other hand, if we're going to make the argument that participating in combat sports is actually counterproductive to training in self-protection, then we need to flag those exact issues and figure out how to fix them.  But I don't think anyone on here is making that argument (as best I can tell).

Best,

--J

Zach Zinn
Zach Zinn's picture

deltabluesman wrote:

 

On the other hand, if we're going to make the argument that participating in combat sports is actually counterproductive to training in self-protection, then we need to flag those exact issues and figure out how to fix them.  But I don't think anyone on here is making that argument (as best I can tell).

 

Best,

--J

 

I think it's probably more accurate to say that it -could- be counterproductive if there was no awareness around the issue. The most glaring example would be someone who only trains fighting for submissions from the ground and refuses to see how different environments do or do not favor this approach. A primary example here would be all the BJJ videos from acknolwedged experts in the field that refuse to make a distinction between consensual fighting and self defense. This is a fairly serious error and could be counterproductive to someone's safety under some cricumstances. Beyond that, it is almost willfully ignorant. It is the same kind of ignorance that causes Traditional Martial Artists to claim they don't need x, y, or z type of training experience because they know "deadly techniques"..in short, it's a cop out. I think we all have a tendecy to protect what we love this way, but let's be honest about what it is. I noticed that Iain's latest video addresses ground n pound tactics from the legal and tactical standpoint. Another place where in fact, certain combat sport training might be counter productive for self defense.

Note though, the place in which it is counter productive in the case of combat sport has nothing to do with lack of physical skills, but with awareness of how they would be applied differently, so the issue is not that a certain approach somehow makes physical skill irrelevant, but that the physical skills being honed are made for one environment, and are assumed to just transfer to another with no attention because well, they are cool. I know you are not making this argument, but it is a common one.

deltabluesman
deltabluesman's picture

Yes, I agree fully with that view.  I also agree that it's a major problem in many, many schools, and it can be very hard to convince people otherwise.  It's especially important for pragmatic karateka to be aware of this bias when they start cross-training . . . not so much to argue against it, but so they can properly categorize what they're doing and make sure they don't get lost in the new sport. 

So yes, 100% in agreement here.

Zach Zinn
Zach Zinn's picture

deltabluesman wrote:

Yes, I agree fully with that view.  I also agree that it's a major problem in many, many schools, and it can be very hard to convince people otherwise.  It's especially important for pragmatic karateka to be aware of this bias when they start cross-training . . . not so much to argue against it, but so they can properly categorize what they're doing and make sure they don't get lost in the new sport. 

So yes, 100% in agreement here.

 

I solve the whole problem by hardly talking at all about previous training unless people ask, I've found it a good policy. I also know that I will lose a lot when I cross train, and try to prepare my ego:(

I first learned about this the first time I did traditional, medium to full contact Karate style fighting (the kind where anything goes to the body, but no head contact or gear) as a teenager atfer years of point-style engagement. I got destroyed so badly that I remember throwing a fit about it in private. Since this time, I try to remind myself that I'm going cross train, I am -always- the new guy and might as well just be a blank slate until later, when I can contextualize whatever I learned into my own goals, which are (to be honest) pretty modest anyway.

colby
colby's picture

Thing I love about that argument is do you know how hard it is to get into a confrontation with a trained person? Like you really got to work at it or your the 0.01 percent that runs into the dude that's high on HGH and has had more concussions than Chris Benoit.

There's three different reactions when you interact with another trained person for the 1st time. Either you have a friendly discussion where yo guys want to train together, the other person tells how great X martial art is and tries to get you to do it. A very rare reaction is they find out what you do and look down on you and want nothing to do with you. Which is fine, whatever.

The other reaction is the person trying to prove themselves that's asks you:

Do you think your martial art can beat my martial art?

In which case you just say no I dont think so and they go away.

Most trained fighters also want to avoid confrontation that doesnt get them paid so they are also usually cool when you spill a beer or something on them by mistake.

You almost never got to worry about trained people, it's the people who took a couple classes and never went anywhere that you got to worry about cause they might know a little something but they dont have the mentality of a really good fighter and are down to fight whoever.

Also, pro wrestling is awesome. Watch NWA Powerrr, as a karate person you will love it.