Image courtesy and copyright of Duncan Grisby 2013
Have you ever heard a sentence like: “this guy fights like a karateka or like a Thai Boxer”? There are indeed typical techniques that characterise various fighting styles. However, while different martial arts styles or even individual schools promote or enhance the use of certain techniques it is more often the case that rules will have the strongest influence on fighting styles; this post analyse how and why this is happening.
Fighting rules affect two key aspect of a fight: what punches, kicks or other strikes are allowed and what area of the body can be hit with these strikes. A typical and very obvious example comes from American Kickboxing that I have been practicing for over 30 years and teaching for more than 20. When fighting full contact or light continuous style, assuming no kicks to the legs are allowed, fighters tend to adopt a front stance with their weight on the front leg that allows easy use of punches from both arms in a very similar fashion to boxing. Adopting a front stance enables kicks with the rear leg to be delivered quite naturally, usually as the natural final part of powerful combinations of punches. Kicks with the front leg can be delivered by quickly switching into cat or side stance. On the other side of the spectrum when fighting according to semi contact rules (also called point fighting) the importance of delivering super fast kicks is paramount, together with a reduced need of complicated punching combinations; single punches often rule. Equally important in semi contact is the need of offering the smallest possible scoring area to the opponent because every touch scores; for this reason most of the semi contact fights see fighters adopting a side stance and same apply to Tae Kwon Do as they hardly ever punch. Shotokan or Wado Ryu Karate fighters will usually fight in front stance with low guard in front of their chest because they don’t use many punches in combination; Kyokushin Kaikan Karate relies on the fact that no strikes will hit face or head.
Thai Boxers face a completely different reality due rules allowing strikes to any part of their body including to kicks to the legs. If Thai Boxers relied on the same front stance that we use for American Kickboxing they would find themselves in lots of troubles as their front legs would become easy targets for strong kicks. That’s why they adopt a stance that keeps their weight heavily shifted backward. Boxers naturally know that nothing but punches will come their way while fighting therefore they can swing and bob their head quite low and wide around their opponent’s punches. Some of these positions would attract troubles if performed while kicks or knee strikes are allowed. Final example is how MMA rules, allowing grabs and grappling, condition their stand up fight. Most MMA fighters are great boxers and kickboxers but they simply cannot exploit their full potential as strikers because of the strong risk of their limbs to be grabbed and them being thrown on the floor for the grappling that will follow.
I have been experiencing for years how rules affect one’s fighting style when I welcome new members to my kickboxing club and some of them join after years of experience in various other styles like Karate, Tae Kwon Do, Thai Boxing and Kung Fu. At the beginning they all try to keep their style and use techniques and stances they were used to; as their experience evolves their whole style also mutates and they become more and more like the other members of the club. Although we teach our techniques and combinations according to our style there is no implicit or explicit suggestions that people should give up what they learnt, as long as they are fighting respecting our rules; however fighting according to our rules progressively inspires them to adopt the techniques and combinations we teach because they fit very well with such rules.
Bill Wallace, Massimo Gaetani and Paul Barnett at Trinity College Cambridge
I recently had the opportunity of spending an entire day, including a 2 hours workshop, with Bill ‘Superfoot’ Wallace and here are some of my impressions about my time with this legend of modern martial arts. It all started when Paul Barnett, a karate teacher which acts as his agent, contacted me offering a possible date for a seminar that I accepted without hesitation. I previously met Superfoot in 2011 at a workshop organised by Colin Payne down in Kent but the opportunity of having him in my club with my students and instructors was not to be missed.
Bill arrived at London Heathrow with an overnight flight landing at 5:55am; Paul collected him and drove straight to Cambridge where they arrived just before 8:30am. I was waiting for them at my clinic. Bill recognised me from our previous, albeit very short and crowded encounter, but it was immediately as if we knew each other for a long time. As he was very tired and jet lagged I allowed him to have a nap in one of our therapy rooms.
He woke up at about midday and we went together for lunch and then a coffee in town while visiting a couple of Cambridge Colleges. The afternoon went by pretty fast and it was soon time for our workshop that lasted about two hours where Bill run through the basic concepts of his ‘Superfoot’ system and he was explaining how he kept winning fights in his career of undefeated 6 time world champion of Full Contact kickboxing.
Bill is in late 60es and when you see him on the street he looks like a man of his age in a very good shape. When he gets changed and starts warming up he just transforms in a different person; he is more flexible than most people I know and can kill with a speed and accuracy that must be seen live.
After the workshop we went out for dinner and it was about 9:30pm when Paul called it the day and moved on to their next destination for the workshop they planned for the second day of Bill’s 9 days staying the UK.
All of my students and instructors were thrilled by the idea of training with such a legend before we started. After the workshop, they all confirmed how Bill exceeded any expectation. There is no doubt that training with a legend like Bill ‘Superfoot’ Wallace is great from a technical point of view, for any martial artist that uses kicks. However I gained more insights about his philosophy of life and training than I actually learn new techniques or strategies to win fights. It’s great to speak to him about how he met and/or trained with a huge range of celebrities within the martial arts, sports fighting and show business: Bruce Lee, Elvis Presley, Dan Inosanto, Dominique Valera and Benny Urquidez just mention a few. The fact that at 67 he still training regularly and runs between 80 and 100 workshops per year in 2 continents is a great inspiration for all martial artists that, like me, are aiming at training until old age. I hope there will be other opportunities to have a seminar with Superfoot in the near future; in the mean time I can say he really made my day.
I saw the other day this very inspirational video from Benny “the jet” Urquidez and after some initial hesitation I literally had to write something more than a little compliment note. I always considered myself a martial artist more than a fighter; for me learning and being good at techniques was and is more important than simple beating up people. However, martial arts are about fighting and being at ease with it is essential, in order to put in practice what we learn from a technical point of view.
Some school push the fighting concept to the extreme and just spar all the time; these school often produce aggressive fighters that might have an easy early career but then face the reality of other aggressive fighter which are also technically very good. Other schools simply use excuses like “what we do is too dangerous and we cannot practice it” and just don’t spar at all. I mentioned in previous posts the importance of realistic training as well my view about fighting and winning.
In this short video Benny “the jet” highlights fears and worries that many people have when they start sparring and just by keep training, perhaps by asking to some people to go easy of you until you get better, will help you learn and improve your sparring technique and, eventually, become a champion if that’s what you aspire to. By sparring your friends you will learn to fight and win against your inner demons that ultimately are the ones who are slowing you down and hindering your fighting skills.
I just the found the video below on you tube and I just could not resist to write this post. Having read many books and articles about Jeet Kune Do (JKD) as well as having practiced wing chun solidly for over 5 years I was kind of giving for granted what I see in the video but it’s obvious that for some people it is not.
JKD is a concept and not a style; basic principle behind JKD is to learn various martial arts and just retain what works for the individual, discarding what doesn’t work. This is somehow a precursor concept of MMA fighting, mixing styles to have a complete repertoire of techniques that cover all ranges of fighting including grappling and ground work. In my opinion that is somehow fine for a person which has decent experience in one style, then moves on to the next one and so on. Trying to learn at the same time different styles just creates confusion because a correct stance for one could be wrong for the other and you never know which one is which.
In principle different practitioners of JKD could have developed, given the hundred of martial styles available, completely different kind of JKD. However if you join a JKD school, as long as it is authorised from one of the original students of Bruce Lee (Dan Inosanto, also portrayed in the video, comes to mind), you will learn from scratch techniques that seem to be unique of JKD but, apart from some simple adaptations of footwork and other details they replicate very precisely basic Wing Chun techniques and concepts. Enjoy the video:
Fighting sports offer a broad range of opportunities for competitive people that are interested in measuring their skills and performance against others. Martial arts were invented to improve fighting skills, initially for warriors and soldiers then for ordinary people to help them defending themselves. Best way of testing one’s skill was to challenge somebody else and see who the winner was. Obviously when weapons are involved the result could be lethal for one of the fighters but, the evolution of unarmed combat has developed many different fighting styles that, fast forwarded into the 20th and now 21st century, originated nearly as many sports regulations. Unless you are practicing a very specific and traditional martial art like Aikido or Wing Chun you will have the opportunity of testing your skills against another fighter in a properly organised tournament.
I have always embraced martial arts practice in a very holistic way trying to develop all aspects of self development and skill improvement they can offer; that means that for me sparring and fighting was never the only or the most predominant activity in my training. However there is no doubt that fighting itself is the ultimate test that measures how realistic you training is and how applicable the techniques you have been practicing are. I could probably describe my whole thoughts on the topic as: you must fight and being good at it but when training for it sparring is not the only part you should concentrate on.
If you are taking part in a marathon you know that there will tens of thousand participant and one winner; there a very high probability it won’t be you. So entering a marathon is the kind of thing many people do for the sake of actually doing it with very little ambitions of actually winning one. When fighting a martial arts bout you know it will be just you and another individual; by the end of the fight one of you will be the winner and the other… the looser; there is no problem about that but many people take the whole thing way too serious.
Winning is good, it makes you feel good and gives you amazing personal rewards. Losing is not so good but, particularly at the beginning, you need to take into account that losing is part of life and it’s not the end of it. Personally I don’t like losing and therefore, when I was competing, I would not enter a tournament unless I knew I worked very hard and felt ready for it I knew I had a fair chance of winning and most times I did win. Now that I am coaching athletes I consider their victory or defeat as much as if I were fighting myself. For that reason I work very closely with them and make sure I push their skills and preparation beyond their normal comfort zone so that they can have their fair chance of winning.
The actual physical martial aspect of fighting need to be blended with the psychological aspect of how one’s mind will accept and process very fast thoughts before and during the fight as well strong feeling associated to the irrational act of entering a ring or a cage and trying to beat somebody else up, even if by obeying to some rules. Many people including myself consider normal what and how they do things and some times unusual or odd other people’s approach when different. So in my opinion everybody should apply the simple rule of entering competition just when well prepared and with a fair chance of winning. I felt very uncomfortable a few weeks ago while watching the Cambridge University Tao Kwon Do club losing very badly in a Varsity fight against Oxford University. I was stunned by how poorly prepared most of the Cambridge boys and girls were and how they have been pushed into a fight without their fair chance of winning, surely due to little or no sparring practice during their training.
Losing in a martial arts bout can hurt your body and head, on top of your ego and soul; you must train hard until you have done everything that was possible to prepare your self and being ready, so to have your fair chance for a victory.