Why hooligans should practice martial arts

I have been practicing martial arts for well over 30 years so the concept of striking other human beings without the need of being angry at them is well embedded in my subconscious. At the same time I cannot understand or tolerate any form of fanatism, being it religious, sport related or whatever else. I do not watch football and I truly struggle to understand how people can have a fight and risk their life in name of the team they support.

A few weeks back I watched a TV documentary about hooligans and how the culture has evolved over the years. More recently they got better organised thanks to technologies like mobile phone but also they have been progressively controlled by increasing security and video surveillance both inside and outside the football fields. When I see tens or hundreds of people whose only purpose in life is to organise a trip to another town and plan how to fight their counterparts it seems to me very much like a barbaric, irrational act which is hard to explain. I can even try to understand why hooligans have this rush to fight but when they use random weapons, fight many of them against one it seems way too dangerous, putting many lives at risk.

I am not stranger to violence and any person who, like me, is into contact martial arts might agree that fighting another human being can be a great challenge and pleasant adrenaline rush. However in martial arts we have a code of ethics, discipline, proper behaviour, we have rules, referees and judges, even medical assistance when needed.

This is the reason I am suggesting to hooligans to take up martial arts; some people might object that they are already dangerous enough without the training by here is my reasoning. Martial arts will:

  • teach them how to be (more) fair toward their opponents
  • that fighting one-to-one is fine
  • that you need to train regularly and being fit
  • that you need humility and respect for your opponents as much as for fellow training partners
  • that if you train and spar regularly you might get the same adrenaline rush as when you fight other hooligans; perhaps if you do that 3-4 times per week you don’t need to do it on match day

That would be nice, wouldn’t it? Or… perhaps people that can be classified as hooligans will not have the discipline and the will power to take up a martial art in a serious way and stick to a regular training regime. That’s why we are martial artists and they are hooligans.

Knife Defence

Whenever you see in a movie a guy fighting one or more attackers armed with knives don’t believe what you are seeing: most of the times it’s rubbish.  I have seen lots of knife defence that simply won’t work when, in the street, a random guy (or girl) pulls out a knife and try stabbing your guts or slashing your throat.   I am sorry to say but too many teachers out there give to their students a false illusion about how easy it may be disarming an attacker carrying knife and bad intentions toward you.

At the same time there are a few styles that seem more realistic about how to deal with armed attackers.  In fact I am inclined to follow the logic that a style that trains weapons to start with, like most styles from Indonesia and the Philippines, and move toward bare handed fighting at a later stage (e.g. when you loose your weapon you should/must carry on fighting).

I am personally terrified of edged weapons because of my relatively short experience and lack of continuous practice.  Although I probably have the knowledge and skill to fight and defeat a random attacker from the street in a life or death situation I am always hoping that day will never come.  I have been following Maul Mornie for some time and he never fails to impress me with his very logical, essential and wise defence techniques.  Please have a look at this video and let me have your comments:

Road Rage and lack of common sense

BaldManLogical reasoning and common sense are usually great help in everyday life but this morning an event suggested me that it doesn’t apply to everyone.  The three following statements definitely apply to my way of thinking but I was proven wrong:

  • Approaching a car in a in a road rage can be anything between very dangerous to lethal.  Any body, regardless their shape, size and background can hold weapons of any kind in a car.
  • When I see a man from behind and his bald head seems to be linked directly with his trapezoids (muscles above the shoulders) without any neck, e.g. like Mike Tyson in the good old days, I would avoid fighting him unless I am attacked first.  I cannot see any good reason to approach aggressively a similar looking person, whatever he has done on the road.
  • Early morning at 6:30, when traffic in a small city like Cambridge is nearly inexistent, is so it’s unlikely to cause good reasons for arguments.

This morning at 6:30 I was travelling toward my usual Wednesday business breakfast meeting when I stopped, on a dual carriage way bridge, at the red light behind another car.  In the other lane I saw stopping a Ford Focus with a big guy in it and a couple of seconds later a Vauxall Vectra stopped behind.  Nothing wrong until the driver of the Vectra rushed out of his vehicle run the few metres to approach the other car and slamming a big slap on the side window at the driver side shouted “what the f%&k are you doing?”.  This person is in his late fifties to sixties, long haired and slim, wearing shirt, tie and suit trousers: I was between surprised and astonished about the whole scene.

At that point I see the big guy turning quite calmly toward his window that he is lowering while he is saying something I could obviously did not hear.  I also noticed a little baton, perhaps a kid’s baseball bat in his hands: he was probably suggesting the older man to get away or risking troubles.  To be honest, given the size of the bald man the older driver could have had enough problems evev without a weapon.  Nonetheless the older guy shouted a few more obscenities until I saw the big driver swinging the baton out of his window.

At the point the light turned green, I started moving forward with my car and the Focus’ driver did the same: nothing really happened but the old guy could have spent his morning at the hospital if the big guy decided to get out of his vehicle.

Now, I even like to believe there have been good reasons for this to happen but once more I am convinced, as I wrote recently, that a bit of common sense sometime would avoid lots of troubles.

Two good ways to avoid a fight

I am convinced that getting involved in a fight is something that should be avoided at all times.   There might be circumstances where fighting is absolutely unavoidable and I repeat something I have already expressed before: in a fight or flight the latter should be preferable if you are sure you can run faster than your attacker 🙂

What triggers a fight? Many different circumstances and reasons: in any case it takes more than one person to be involved.  Even if somebody is bothering you or threatening you in many, many cases you could avoid the physical confrontation by talking the situation down or simply walking away.  Unfortunately our pride plays bad tricks sometimes and we would love to be like inspector Harry Callahan, being able to state a few sentences and then punish our attacker to be in a way or the other.

The so called self defence should really be applied to situations when you are physically attacked and the only way of getting out of the situation is to stop your attacker with all possible means before he might cause serious injury or death to yourself or your loved ones.  While it is not often possible to turn and offer the other cheek very often it is possible to avoid a fight and walk home rather than risking to spend some time in a cell or in hospital as a result of a fight gone in one way or the other.

B.H is a friend of mine ex professional boxer and is surely a guy you would not like to be involved with in a fight.  With nearly hundred fights under his belt between amateur and professional is a person that spent more time in front of somebody that would like to knock him down than most street fighters will ever experience in several lives.  As it happened once a guy thought to have a good reason to punch him straight in the face.  This is a fairly common, not too exciting, experience for a professional fighter: probably similar to have a cup of coffee for the average office worker.  The simple end to the story is that the attacker was so surprised of B. not reacting at all to the attack and simply adding: “it takes a lot more to make me angry, and if I get angry I could kill you”.  This sentence made me think: it is true that a pro sport fighter is in business to harm other people for money (legally).  At the same time he will not necessarily react with anger to the typical situation where most people would go berserk.

Another similar experience happened to me personally: although I never been a pro I consider myself capable of seriously harming the average punter with bad intention that happens to be on my way.  A few months ago I drove out of my driveway in a winter, dark afternoon and somebody in another car was arriving at a distance that I failed to evaluate correctly so he had to slow down.  He blew his horn violently and repeatedly.  As I stopped at the red light a few hundred yards away I promptly checked in my rear mirror where the guy was and I noticed a car behind mine with no driver: in less than a second I noticed the guy was by my side window yelling at me what a “f*&$!%g idiot I was and blah blah”.  He was enraged and ready for a fight, inviting me to get out.  I apologise to him and said I did not see him coming (never mind he was probably faster than he should be), but he kept insulting me… after a 30 second or so and a few more insults he went back to his car, the light turned green and I went on to my meeting.  The guy was scary looking and enraged, nonetheless if he tried to grab me or injure me I could have probably got rid of him in no time, perhaps leaving him in the middle of the road… and then what?  He saw me coming out of my drive way: he could come back there and wait for me with a weapon and/or friends, he could burn my house down or anything else you can think about.  Are all these terrible consequences really worth the fact that he thinks I am a “f*&$!%g idiot”?  Not really, so I left him with his opinion and moved on.

The choices that B. and I took were safer in the end because we avoided, in different ways and circumstances, a fight that could be avoided: for B. being punched in the face is as normal as a hand shake; for me, while I don’t like to be called names, I can conclude that it is simply your opinion and it does affect my self esteem.

Contact training for self defence

This post is discussing the importance of contact training in martial arts, particularly in view of their effectiveness in self defence situations.

A few months back I welcomed a new student in my club: he stated to be nearly at Dan level in his club back home.  He practiced a style of Korean martial art, derived from Tae Know Do and purely orientated to self defence. While he felt confident training with anybody he showed immediately to be struggling when people at intermediate level started attacking him with proper combinations of punches and kicks.  His techniques and fitness preparation is good and his main limitation is the lack of practice with aggressive attackers swinging punches at him.  Without speculating on his abilities or however diminishing them I feel that if faced by somebody with really bad intentions his style and preparation might have let him down.

I met and heard many people that sell their style as self defence and justify the lack of contact in their training stating that “our techniques are too dangerous to be applied for real”: fact is if you never practice a technique for real it will not work when you have to use it.

Do you know any boxer?  Have you ever heard of a boxer being beaten up in the street? Boxing is considered pretty basic and very physical by most purists of martial arts and the repertoire of techniques it offers is limited to 4 punches.  At the same time each techniques is pushed to its perfection and strong attention is paid to fitness and preparation; a boxer will hit hard and precisely to the point, finishing off a fight in a very short time.  Boxing is by definition a contact sport, full contact, and there isn’t such a thing as a soft boxing fight.

The main purpose of contact training, whatever limitations are imposed by the rules observed, is to have a fight that resembles a realistic situation, not dissimilar to what you would find on the street.  A self defence situation would surely have no rules, being everything but fair; if you have experience in sparring with a realistic level of contact it likely you are going to get out of there pretty well.

One of the most important aspects of fighting is in the mind; your mind will respond to a very basic stimulus, fight or flight, which goes back to when our ancestors were encountering fierce animals.  Faced with a danger the subconscious has to take a split second decision: shall I run (best form of self defence) or stay and fight?  In any case adrenaline will be released and you will be more alerted, either with improved running performance or ready for the fight.  Heart beat will increase and however fit you might be you might feel short of breath after an effort that usually would not affect you at all.

Contact training, however performed in a controlled environment helps reducing the stress induced by adrenaline rush.  If you are sparring regularly and therefore are often faced with individuals that have the only intention to punch you, kick you or whatever else, your mind will be get used to it and respond in a more rational and controlled way.

Related posts are: How Realistic is Your Training? and Martial arts for self defence: are they useful?