There are a lot of things I could train, but when it comes right down to it, what do I really need to have in my arsenal? To answer this question, first you have to decide what you want your martial art game to be about? Is it sport focused, more self-preservation oriented, or simply for fun?
I would suggest, that for most people training martial arts an important motivation (even if it’s not their primary one) is to know that should something happen out on the ‘streets’ that they will be able to successfully defend themselves, or those they love.
Taking this into account, three things stand out:
Tools – what kind of techniques do you need to know?
Environmental Awareness – being aware of your surroundings, both when a threat is present, and even when it’s not.
Inner Game – probably the most neglected, but most important aspect that must be understood and developed to survive a street encounter.
That’s a simple outline, but of course, its more nuanced than that. If suddenly you find yourself being attacked on a flight of stairs, something like a roundhouse kick to the head may not be the best choice of tool. The truth is, almost any technique can be applied depending on context. But just because that may be true, doesn’t mean one should spend time on every single technique one can find. The key isn’t to train a technique for ‘a specific context’ but rather to train a technique that has a high chance of being applied in ‘most contexts.’
The best, and honest approach is simply to observe what techniques are most commonly applied in resistance training, like sparring, and then going one step further dumbing them down. In other words, boxing and clinch techniques are common in stand up sparring in MMA. But there is a big difference between what a professional athlete can apply, versus someone just starting out. I am personally always looking for what a person just starting out can apply and pull off — as this at least in my view will always be closer to what the reality of a self-preservation fight would look like.
Applying Tools That Are Universally Contextual
Here’s an example. It doesn’t take long to teach someone a jab and a cross. A hook isn’t that hard to teach either. Uppercuts on the other hand are slightly more difficult to teach someone, whilst a shovel hook even harder. When I say teach here, I also mean, transferring that in such away that the person applying those techniques actually looks like they know what they are doing, and can pull it off in sparring. If we look at kicks, a front kick is pretty easy to teach, an inverted kick to the knee a little more difficult, but trying to get someone to throw a roundhouse kick to someones head with accuracy, and knock out power is pretty difficult. Of course, every one of the difficult techniques to teach as mentioned are all techniques if used in the right context could end a fight. But ‘could’ is the optimal word here.
Could is never as good as ‘likely.’ It is far more likely in a street encounter that I can throw a jab and make it land, than I could a jumping back kick. Even an inverted kick to the knee, a technique I love training, has to always be tempered within an environmental context. Standing on gravel? Probably not such a great idea to execute that kick. This is why your tools (i.e., techniques) always have to be considered within the context of environment. What techniques you chose to use then, will largely be dictated on the environment you find yourself in. But if you can find tools that are applicable to many contexts, then you have a winner.
This is why, when I choose what to train these days, I use sparring first as my bench mark. I know from sparring, that a jab for instance is much easier to land against a resisting opponent than a shovel hook. This doesn’t mean a shovel hook is a waste of time to train, but the reality of the fight should always dictate what is most effective to use. If it’s hard to land a shovel hook in a controlled environment like sparring, how much harder might that be in the chaotic realm of a real fight on the street?
In the same vein, a low roundhouse kick to an opponents thigh will always be easier to land, than one to his head. Again, this doesn’t make a high kick ineffective, but the reality of the fight dictates that in order to make that technique work, you not only need the flexibility, but equally precision, and great timing. All factors you would need less off if kicking the thigh. If you then transfer this over to the mayhem of a real fight on the street, which is chaotic, hinged to environmental factors (you are not in a Dojo on a padded floor all warmed up) — you want to be concerned with applying tools, techniques, that don’t require absolute accuracy, timing, etc. In other words, the higher the attributes required to execute a technique against a resisting, uncooperative opponent, the more likelihood something can (and will) go wrong.
It’s Not About More, It’s About Less
As I see it, to many people spend way to much time collecting one technique after another, as if all techniques are made equal. All techniques are equal until applied within a certain context. Lets say for example, I become obsessed with high kicks. This is all I train. I then come home one evening, walk into my home, the lights are off and suddenly someone grabs me. We tussle, and we fall over my sofa. Where is there a time in that moment to kick someone in the head? Lets say I am out walking in the city. Someone attacks me, and I am able to make space. The environment is clear, there are no obstacles, and we are standing on a flat surface and I happen to have lose pants on. I could kick that person in the head for sure. But in both those scenarios I could have applied elbows too. Crucially there there is less chance of messing up with an elbow, than a kick to the head.
What’s my point? There are techniques that ‘almost’ always apply to any situation you may find yourself in. In Crazy Monkey Defense, I have painstakingly worked on discovering these perennial fight winners. This is why in Crazy Monkey, defense comes first, followed by boxing, then elbows and knees, followed by everything else. This doesn’t mean that we don’t train other techniques, but if you only have two hours a week to tend to your self preservation needs, what do you want to spend your time training? Knowing the difference between what ‘could work’ versus that which ‘likely will work’ can mean the difference between life and death in the end. If you are serious about your training, then you need to become equally serious about what you train!