One of the things I discuss often is the separation between combat sports, martial arts and self-defence (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, read this).
Self-defence practitioners often exclaim that combat sports and martial arts are NOT the same as self-defence, and indeed there is plenty of evidence to support this claim.
On the other hand, combat sports and martial arts practitioners will always claim their stuff is effective for self-defence.
Me? I tend to sit right in the middle on this one. Do they overlap? Yes. Are there transferable skills? Absolutely! Are they identical? Absolutely not.
But can they be?
Fighters and martial artists always talk about ‘heart’, or warrior spirit.
It is an unquantifiable quality. Natural for some people, and not natural for others.
It is the ability to keep fighting - to even fight more fiercely - even though you know the battle may have been lost. The ability to stare pain, or defeat, or fear right in the eye – which really means staring into the proverbial mirror – and say, sometimes quietly and sometimes in a loud voice, that you will not stop fighting.
Simply put, it is the strength of character to not give up even though you may want to.
This is a short, true story about heart. I hope it brings you some hope.
Sensei Gershon Ben Keren recently released this excellent blog on what Krav Maga can adopt from combat sports. I thought this was a particularly important piece (amongst his many excellent writings) as it highlights something that is often sorely lacking in Krav Maga, which I touched on here.
Too often martial arts and combat sports are dismissed in the purist self-defence circles (and no, those three things are not the same – more on this here). These criticisms range from painfully accurate to wildly fantastical, but at their core they are mostly the same: ‘that won’t work in the street’.
But there are many things that can be learned from martial arts and combat sports and applied in self defence. I’ve written about this extensively in the blogs above. This is what Sensei Ben Keren highlighted in the piece above as well.
But let’s look at the specifics. What specifically can we learn from combat and martial sports that can be applied in self defence?
The internet has been abuzz the last week or so over a supposed feud between Krav Maga expert Ryan Hoover and the famous BJJ Gracie family. The keyboard warriors are out in force over who’s technique is better, who said what and who would beat whom in a fight.
As my friend, Guru Heikki Martikainen says - “want to talk politics? First we train. Then we talk”. In other words, let’s remember what’s important, and that’s training. Let’s do that first. So I listened to Guru Heikki. I just finished an hour of BJJ, then some boxing, and about to go do some Krav Maga. I’m now feeling like I can talk about this.
I’m not going to get involved in the politics of who’s right or wrong with this stuff. What I am going to talk about is why they can both be right, and why they can both be wrong.
If I’m lucky, I might even answer one of the most hated questions on the Internet… What’s the best self defence system in the world?
Martial arts are a form of self-expression, so let's compare them to the one tool for self expression that we all share as human beings - speech.
We don't all speak the same, and every language sounds differently. When we speak a sentence, we put emphasis on particular words. We may speak slowly or quickly, and change our rhythm and pace. We use pauses to give meaning to certain words, and to allow the listener to process what we are saying. We change our pitch, tone and inflection to convey feeling and meaning. Where we stand (close, far, in front, on an angle, etc.) and how we use particular body language has a massive impact on the message we send when we communicate.
To me, sparring is the physical manifestation of the same principles. It is when we stop practising putting words together, and actually converse freely. It's when we improvise. So how do you learn to make great speeches when sparring?
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You have finished warming up and have put all of your protective gear on. You’ve spent the last 5 minutes mentally preparing yourself for what’s about to happen. ‘It’s all good’, you tell yourself. ‘I am the star here. Everyone is here to make me look good and I’m going to kick butt’. You feel sharp. You feel ready. You feel excited.
The bell goes, and within seconds your partner hits with you with a hard, clean shot.
Things go downhill fast from there. Your adrenaline takes over. Your combinations don’t seem to have an effect, you can’t seem to land any clean shots and you start getting frustrated.
The next round, though with a different partner, feels much the same.
Has this ever happened to you? If the answer is 'yes', then read on.
For some, this word brings excitement, anticipation and fun.
For others, it brings fear, trepidation and that familiar feeling of an empty pit in the bottom of your stomach and a dry mouth.
Both are normal, and we all get some days of one and some days of the other, depending on our experience, how we feel on the day, who we are sparring with, etc.
I’d like to invite you to think of the aggregate, or the overall theme of how you feel about sparring. Which one of the above two responses seems more prominent - anticipation or fear?
Previous I discussed two points that relate to being a good training partner in the dojo. You can read about it here. Those two points related to what to do and what you need in order to do it. I also wrote quite a bit about some of the many funny, weird and wonderful faces you will meet at the dojo. You can read about them here.
I’d like to recap the example I used in the previous article, as it conveys a pretty strong message message:
The instructor just finished demonstrating a particular drill, and asks you to find a partner. Everyone in class is quickly paired up while you are still looking around trying to find someone who is on their own, and quickly notice gazes being averted when you try to make eye contact. You eventually manage to corner someone and now have a partner!
The instructor just finished demonstrating a particular drill, and asks you to find a partner. Before you get a chance to look around, 3 people approach you. They are all smiling and when you pair up with the nearest one, the other two smile and say ‘how about next round?’
Which one happens to you more often?