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Wayne's picture
Point style sparring relevance to self-protection?

Does the long range point style sparring have any relevance to self-protection? 

  I’m thinking about long range footwork, managing distance, creating space and elusiveness and if they might offer any benefits at all for self-defense, even if relatively minor, limited or even just momentary, since a real attacker will likely swarm you trying to overwhelm with pressure and continuous violence.    I don’t think it’s likely very useful as a whole, but maybe just take some specific elements that can be borrowed and integrated, perhaps modified and combined with other methods. I’ve seen some Shotokan schools who don’t compete, but still utilize this type of sparring, even integrating grappling into it.    We’ve even seen it used some in MMA, which a lot people said would never happen, I realize that’s very different from self-protection, but just wondering if there might be some applicable crossover in just the potential physical side of self-defense at least in some situations.    Thanks.     


Frazatto's picture

I would defend the argument that one should have a grasp a variety of strategies, including maintaining proper distance and practicing evasion. Quickly braking distance in a safe way is something I only started to learn in boxing, my Shotokan background only taught me those kamikaze lunges.

Philios's picture

I'm a Shotokan guy myself with many years of competition experience.  I would say that the athleticism one develops from that sort of training might help one more in a self-defense situation than the actual strategies employed in the training itself.  That twitchy, explosive movement one develops through that sort of training is not really seen elsewhere.

The problem I see with sport kumite is that it does not translate well with the close-range reality of self-defense.  When someone grabs onto you, the qualities that a sport fighter excels at (distance management, long-range footwork, elusiveness, etc.) are essentially nullified.  In terms of striking, the range for performing winning techniques is much further away from the opponent, compared to the striking techniques required in standup grappling distance. If you are at sport fighting range, then you should simply be running away or disengaging, but the reality is that unless you are in that close range, you are most likely not in a self-defense situation. 

The targets themselves that are valid in sport kumite are relatively safe, and vulnerable areas with the most bang for the buck are considered illegal (for good reason in that context, of course).  Furthermore, the "control" one must display in a sporting match I feel trains a muscle memory that is detrimental to striking impactfully.  Most techniques frequently practiced for sport kumite (gyaku-zuki, kizami-zuki, mawashi-geri, ura-mawashi-geri, mae-geri) prove to be ineffective when the opponent is at close range.  Finally simply playing by the rules, one becomes accustomed to a start/stop cadence, when in a self-defense situation there is no ref to save you.  You must keep fighting until it is over or you can escape.  If we all fall back to our training in moments of stress, then these practices which are ingrained, I would argue, don't do much to help in this very different context.

With intelligent training, one could certainly patch those holes, but IMHO simply doing sport kumite does not translate well at all for self-protection aside from becoming physically fitter doing it.

Heath White
Heath White's picture

I don't think there's a whole lot of relevance, but (1) being in shape is better than being out of shape, and (2) fast feet are better than slow feet.

Chris Wissmann
Chris Wissmann's picture

I’ve worked on a blog about the relationship between point-fighting and self-defense for my own site for a few months now, and between this thread and the tournament we’re getting ready to compete in, I felt inspired to finish and post it.

(Again, I hope it’s okay to link to my blog, since I linked to this thread on it and often link to Iain’s site, since it’s a such a great source of inspiration and information.)

Any martial artist can quickly size up the shortcomings of point-fighting, so no need to rehash them here—besides, Philios already did an excellent job of that.

Maybe this places me in the minority, but I actually believe that point-fighting helps teach general principles of self-defense—when carefully adapted.

Great as kata-based sparring is, even when, as Iain says, adding dirt, we generally work with compliant partners who react how we want them to. (And, as in point-fighting, we control our contact in kata-based sparring, for obvious reasons, but as in point-fighting, kata-based sparring conditions us not to strike through a target.) Sparring of any kind requires us to improvise against unscripted, unexpected attacks, so I find it valuable, whatever rules people choose employ, though all rules systems imperfectly overlap self-defense in different ways.

The distance relationships in point-fighting can obviously differ substantially from those in self-defense, but in both situations, we need to find the most advantageous position from which to attack and defend. Sometimes that means creating space or attacking from a different angle, and point-fighting can teach us how to do that. Again, it requires modification to suit the situation (and drilling kata or cross-training in other martial arts can do a great job of teaching us many of the variations we might employ), but in a broad sense, point-fighting can help us learn to do that against non-compliant attackers.

The first person to land a technique gets the point in tournament fighting, and that translates well to self-defense—against an armed or a much stronger assailant you cannot afford to let them hit you before you hit them. This emphasizes seizing the initiative in ways that other combat sports don’t—how many boxers will absorb six or seven jabs to land a left hook? That won’t work against an assailant with a knife or a 70-pound weight advantage. You cannot win in point fighting unless you hit without getting hit, and if you can do that, your chances of successfully defending yourself should increase.

Ultimately, though, point-fighting requires significant adaptations to serve as a self-defense training tool—just as kata or any other training does. As long as we think of it as a means to an end, not an end in itself, and we train with a critical eye, we have a chance to derive value from it for self-defense.