by Antonio Graceffo
practicing techniques on a punchOne of my tuishou teammates threw a punch and held it in the air, while the other one was practicing different counters.
I really got excited, wanting to go over and join in, to show them some of the techniques I would use. But I didn't know if this would be an insult to my teacher. So I waited. Finally, after they had practiced the silliest, most ineffectual techniques for a long while, they called me over and asked me to play.
I showed them some arm drags and block-and-throws I had learned from Sifu David Collins in American kung fu. But in real fighting I never use these techniques. I just circle, take blows on my arms, and counter. I don't understand why practitioners of karate, taekwondo, aikido and kung fu waste so much time dealing with, "What if the man throws a punch at me?" In boxing, it is pretty much a given that the guy will throw punches at you. All we do in boxing is move three inches to the left or right, and counter.
Most martial arts concentrate on a particular kind of fighting, such as jiu-jitsu (which uses throwing from a punch or other self-defense situation), judo (which uses throwing from the hip), aikido (which uses joint locks), and taekwondo (which uses high kicks), boxing (which uses punches), and san da (which combines boxing and kicking). But kung fu is very unique in that it is the one martial art containing elements of all of these arts. Kung fu is completely comprehensive, possessing techniques rarely found in non-Chinese arts, such as the internal martial arts and inner strength.
Leung Ting's large classSo, in a kung fu self-defense lesson one could expect to find elements of any or all of the other martial arts, with students learning blocks, throws, kicks, strikes, and joint manipulations.
The typical self-defense class has the teacher standing at the front of the room, inflicting some torture on a student, such as putting him in a headlock or a full nelson, and explaining, "If your opponent does this, you should do that." He then slowly beats the tar out of the student, and everyone claps.
Although kung fu contains any number of techniques which could be deadly – or at least extremely useful in self-defense situations – the body of techniques taught under the label of "self-defense" would be largely useless in actual self-defense situations on the street.
For example, in mixed martial arts competitions as well as professional san da and san shou, the throws always come from catching kicks. In reality, it is nearly impossible to throw a man from his arm in a fight, which is the weakness of stand-up Japanese jiu-jitsu. In the minds of most competitors, traditional jiu-jitsu is like an appendix, the vestigial organ of martial arts. The same goes for kung fu self-defense technique where you catch the attacker's arm and throw him. You can throw by catching a kick, but throwing by catching a punch is nearly impossible.
When an MMA striker gets too close to an MMA grappler, he is usually taken down with a shoot. This means the grappler launches himself at the midsection of the attacker, and takes him down by grabbing him around the hips and throwing him. The shoot is very similar to many of the throws used in san da and shuai jiao. You can shoot the waist, and then lift and throw, suplex, body slam, and fireman's carry. You could also kick the attacker's base leg out from under him, sweeping. Or maybe you could do a combination of both. Use your shoulder to push his weight onto one leg, and then sweep that leg. Just like in san da, when you try this move on a real attacker, be sure to protect your face by pegging your head tight up against the attacker's side so he cannot strike you. Also, the secret to a good throw is that you must have your opponent tight up against you. There should be no space between you and your opponent. If there is space, all you will succeed in doing is pushing him away from you.
training to fight
Joint locks and manipulations can be extremely painful. We have all had a friend or an instructor say, "Let me show you this new hold I learned," after which he twists your limbs into a pretzel, bending them in impossible angles. You would definitely submit if someone did a joint manipulation on you. But with the heat and adrenaline of a fight, it is very difficult to get a manipulation on someone. Again, I look at MMA competition as a good test of what will and what will not work. After countless hours of TV viewing (and over-eating snack-foods), I have never seen a fight ended by a standing manipulation.
Back at tuishou, several of my teammates seemed impressed with the techniques I showed them. But one guy looked skeptical. Unfortunately, he was one of the ones who only spoke Taiwanese.
From what I could tell, the skeptical guy seemed to be saying I couldn't use any of my techniques in a real fight. I have had countless matches in my life in dojos, boxing gyms, and parking lots. These guys had probably not even had one. But I didn't get angry. I just listened, and tried to find meaning in what he was saying. Finally, he backed off about ten feet and said something in Taiwanese. I didn't know if he was challenging me to a fight or asking me what I would do in this situation. Before I could get clarification, he ducked his head and ran at me. This really surprised me, since this wasn't a tai chi technique as far as I know. But he looked like he meant business.
As he was so far away, I had a few seconds to decide what to do. If I knew for sure that we were fighting, I would wait and kick him in the face. Then I thought, no, I would wait and hit him in the face with my shin. But I wasn't sure if it was a fight, so I didn't want to hurt him. So, I waited. When he got closer, I thought. I'll hit him in the face with my knee. Or, I will grab the back of his head and hit him in the face with my knee, several times. Or, I could uppercut him.
Since he was running at me full force, any of these techniques would have knocked him out, if not killed him. But still I didn't know if this was a real fight. So I decided to take him down without hurting him. I waited until the last second. Then I caught his head in a guillotine choke. I rolled backwards, using his force to roll us both, one complete circle. When we came to a rest, I still had his throat in a choke hold. But now he was laying face down, belly down on the ground, and I was on top of him. My forearm was cutting into his throat, and my chest was on top of his head. I sprawled my legs, so he couldn't grab them, and put all my weight on the back of his head. Then I cranked on his neck. He tapped immediately.
That was the end of the fight. I didn't know if I did the right thing. I didn't know if it had been a real fight. I have no idea what had happened, and I never will.
In reality, I would probably never use any of those techniques for self-defense. My first kung fu teacher, David Collins, was extremely practical about self-defense. He didn't like flashy or fancy techniques. They are hard to teach and hard to learn to do properly. Using a fancy technique for self-defense is like taking a very complicated, highly sensitive computerized device on your whitewater rafting adventure trip. The odds of it failing you are very high.
So, self-defense techniques should be kept simple.
The next point – one I live by – is that we can only be good at those things which we practice, again and again. An old martial arts saying goes, "I am not afraid of the thousand kicks you practiced one time, but of the one kick you have practiced a thousand times." The same goes for self-defense. The self-defense situation is highly stressful, and it materializes out of nowhere when you least expect it. You will have no time to think. So, your reactions must be instinctual and lightning fast, relying on muscle memory rather than cerebral memory.
Muscle memory is a training concept whereby you do a move, correctly, thousands of times, until your muscles fail. At that point, the soreness and fatigue are imprinted on the muscles. The next day, you will know that you are doing the move correctly if you feel the exact pain from the previous day. If you do a kick until failure, the next day when you do the same kick, even slowly, you will feel pain all through the range of motion. If there are points where you don't feel pain, this means that you have gone outside of the correct range of motion. You are doing the kick incorrectly. And you must adjust your movements so that you stay within the range of movement which causes excruciating pain.
The student should circle the floor-to-ceiling bag as if it were an opponent Training correctly can be an exercise in masochism.
If you don't use muscle memory in your training, you should. But even if you haven't used muscle memory, you are probably using repetition. Take an analysis of your training routine, and decide which techniques you do the most frequently. For example, many people spend hours kicking or punching a bag. Other people spend more time doing forms. If you are a forms practitioner, analyze the forms. Determine which forms you do most, and which techniques occur most frequently in your forms.
Once you have found the three or four moves which you practice most, make these your self-defense moves. These are the moves that will most likely occur in your body when you are attacked. As Bruce Lee said, "I don't hit. It hits."
"It is not the quantity of what you know, Daniel-San, but the quality." A favorite quote from a cheesy movie, THE KARATE KID. I can't even sit through the film today. But when I was thirteen, it really motivated me. And the wisdom of Mr. Miaggi still rings true, even if I can't stop picturing him as Arnold on "Happy Days."
David Collins used to say, "Master one kick, one punch, one throw, and one block, and you will be unbeatable."
The three or four techniques you choose to master can be used for self-defense, no matter what the scenario. Focusing on my love of kickboxing, David Collins once showed me how my best technique – a right-cross – could be used in any self-defense situation.
"The opponent comes running at you from across the room," said David Collins. "What do you do?"
"A slide and trip," I suggested.
Self defense is arguably the most important aspect of fighting."No, a right cross. The man is running straight into it, and it would probably kill him."
The next scenario, "A man grabs your arm, and tries to pull you into an alley or a vehicle. What do you do?"
"That twisting thing where I break his arm," I said.
"No, a right cross. If he is holding your arm, his face is wide open, and you can knock him out."
David Collins presented yet another scenario: "An opponent grabs the front of your shirt."
"Right cross," I said, getting the message.
"He pushes you."
Ok, you get the picture. Your best technique can be used in virtually any self-defense situation. And, particularly if you limit yourself to two or three techniques, they can be modified and adapted to any situation. A tai chi push can be used in any situation where a man is front of you or on the side. A simple hip-throw can be done from any angle to counter any attack or wrestling hold someone would put on you, even if he is behind you. A simple, low, roundhouse kick to the side of the knee can be used from nearly any position and in any situation.
1. Practice quality, not quantity.
2. KISS (keep it simple, stupid).
3. Your best technique is your best bet for self-defense.
4. Practice until you collapse.
5. Watch more TV.