Learning How to Take a Punch
By Scott Shaw
At the heart of any form of physical hand-to-hand combat training is the developed ability to emerge victorious from a physical altercation. The various schools of self-defense each have the own set of developed techniques. Some are street-worthy and very effective; some not so much. The fact is, most schools of traditional martial arts teach a method of self-defense that is far less street-worthy than the teachers of the systems would ever admit. In class, all practice sessions are very orchestrated and expected. If there is sparring at the school it is generally light or no-contact. Though the practitioners of these systems certainly come to master a heightened sense of physical movement, in many cases, when paired against a savvy street fighter they are quickly defeated as they do not know how to react to rapid and very directed physical assaults.
Boxing is an ideal self-defense system where the practitioner quickly learns how to react to a specific type of assault. They get punched and they punch back. Simple but very effective. But, more than just that, a boxer learns how to take a punch and this is one of the most essential elements in the training of any fighter. You have to be able to take a punch and immediately continue on afterwards with your necessary self-defense or any defensive technique you may have learned at the dojo becomes useless.
When the Asian martial arts hit the Western shores after World War II: karate, judo, and jujitsu became the idealized forms of self-defense. In the movies, the practitioner of a traditional form of martial arts always defeated their opponent. When taekwondo hit the West in the 1960s, its beautiful kicks again came to redefine what was possible with self-defense. But, again, if a stylized practitioner of these systems was put up against a competent boxer or seasoned street fighter they would, more than likely, be defeated.
The reason for this is very simply, within any street fight the rules go out the window. All that matters is what works. People who have actually gone hand-to-hand with other fighters, on a frequent basis, are the ones who most clearly understand this and it is they who immediately, without thought, adapt to whatever is being thrown at them by their opponent. If they get hit, they know how to take that punch and not let it debilitate them. They simply move forward with the fight. This, while the stylized practitioner thinks about what they should be doing and why. It is this mindset that ultimately leads to the street fighter emerging victorious in a competition against a trained traditional martial artist.
Throughout the 1960s and onward, more-and-more traditional martial arts practitioners began to open their minds and their styles to allowing other influences to come into play. They would study what other systems had to offer and then integrate that ideology into their own system of self-defense. Though schools of traditional martial arts are still in abundance, more and more training facilities emphasis leaving behind formalized tradition and learning what works and how best to use it.
Here lies they ideal training platform that should be integrated into every school of self-defense. Teach your students the basics and then allow them to go hand-to-hand in a non-defined, unexpected manner, (within a controlled environment, of course). Let them learn what it feels like to actually fight. From this, they will emerge as true martial artists and ideal combat technicians.
For anyone who has followed by writings on the fighting arts over the past three decades they understand that my focus has always been on developing and using what works best for you. Learn your techniques, study your environment, study your opponent, and then do what you must do to defeat them. I have long detailed the necessity of landing the first strike as that may be all it takes to emerge victorious from any confrontation. But, as time has moved on, I have come to enjoy studying the more refined elements of my opponent’s combat skills and then deciding how best to overcome their attack. To understand this, let me explain…
Every person you enter into a physical altercation with has their own set of predisposed skills and fighting techniques. With most people, they have virtually none. They will either come at you throwing wild punches or if they have no developed skills at all, they will try to tackle you. But, once on the ground, they have no idea what to do next. In each case, they immediately show their hand. They implicitly tell you what they are capable of doing. And, more importantly, of what they are not capable of doing.
Of course, there is the other side of the issue; this is where you come face-to-face with a highly trained fighter. Whether they come from the traditional martial arts, MMA, boxing, or something else, again, what they are going to initially unleash at you is their best technique. Meaning, if they have a really powerful side kick or a highlight developed right hook, they are not going to walk up and slap you. They are going to attempt to hit you as hard as they can with that technique for that is the best they have to offer.
From my person perspective, what I have truly learned from is to let the opponent unleash their best technique. Once they do, then you know what they have – you understand what they can do. From this understanding, the moment they unleash their secondary attack, they have already illustrated how they can most easily be defeated.
Certainly, this method of self-defense can be precarious if you go face-to-face with a highly trained fighter. But, most people who would step up to you aren’t highly trained fighters. They are simply an adrenaline filled individual, lost in their own anger. And, this is why they can easily be defeated. By keeping your focus, studying their technique and movement, you can quickly and consciously defeat them by understanding what they will most likely next unleash and then countermanding it with the most appropriate technique in your arsenal.
At the heart of all self-defense training is learning to anticipate and then defeating your attacker. Yes, if you are a trained practitioner you can go up and probably easily knock a person out with one punch or kick. But, what is the fun in that? Moreover, as I always warn my students, that style of self-defense leaves you highly vulnerable to legal repercussions. On the other hand, if you allow your assailant to be the attacker, then you are simply defending yourself and personal self-defense is always legal.
Most people train in the fighting arts in order to learn how to defeat an opponent in the most expedient manner possible. This is fine. You should learn all the basics from kicks, to punches, to take-downs, to joint locks, and most importantly deflections. Plus, you need to know how to take a punch! But, once all that has been understood, then you must come to understand the individual body mechanics of each style of attack. From this, you gain the ability to consciously observe your opponent while not being overpowered by them and then defeat them in the most appropriate manner, dictated by their own defined style of attack which you have previously witnessed.
Practice with this in your training environment. You will find that it will make you a much more competent martial artist.
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