Don’t obsess over the attack!
A cautionary tale for those progressing Karate
The archetypical “traditional” karate class, where students become skilled at air-punching, tag and defending against straight punches that begin further away from the moon, does little to prepare its participants with solutions to deal with non-consensual violence.
Luckily, karate practitioners are realising this in the masses and the community of “practical karate” is growing year upon year. This means that more and more people are beginning to change the way they practice and study karate. But with that change, I see one change that practical karate instructors make when moving away from the “traditional” karate which creates two problems in the long-term.
One of the main issues with the way karate is widely practiced is the use of Ippon Kumite (One Step Sparring). I have written a full article on this previously so I won’t go into detail here. But for those who agree with me, the next logical step is to remove that practice and replace it with a different form of practice. Herein lies the problem.
I see a lot of people who are new to “practical karate” remove the One Step Sparring practice and replace it with the “Defence against the Haymaker”. Or as Noah Legel of Karate Obsession calls it: - “Defence against the Hockey Punch!”. Which reminds that once I was watching a fight when all of sudden a Hockey match broke out…..
Anyway, back on topic, it seems a logical step to replace a straight karate punch with a wild untrained swinging attack, as you are far more likely to be smashed in the face by one of those when compared to the karate punch. John Titchen’s Habitual Acts of Violence theory is an excellent source if you wish to look at the acts of violence alongside their frequency when put into context.
Replacing the karate punch with the hockey punch is a good starting point, but this where we must be cautious and not fall into the two traps which I see being made once this replacement has been made.
Trap 1 - Reactionary Mindset
This first mistake I see being made by newcomers to practical karate is that they have a heavy bias to reactionary training methods. Curriculum and training sessions which spend the majority of the time (especially for new students) looking at ways of how to defend against a swinging punch, straight punch, grab, headlock, bearhug, front choke, rear choke etc… often miss the key element for a successful physical response to an attack. That element is “pre-emption”.
By allowing the attacker to dictate the terms of the drill, the power is with the attacker. Action nearly always beats reaction and we need to ensure we train in a way which respects this natural law. For those new to karate, we need to ensure we use combative concepts that are Low Risk & High Success (LRHS). Three key examples of these LRHS concepts are pre-emptive strikes, raw intent and use of gross-motor skills.
A common technique found in many pragmatic arts is the "parry-press trap". This technique, and other trapping techniques taught, are often drilled defensively. The Enemy will start by throwing a punch and then Defender will parry the punch and trap the Enemys punching arm before finishing off with a strike of their own. An example of a parry-press trap can be seen in the GIF below (we will call this Drill A).
But trapping doesn't always need to be defensive skill set. We can use it pro-actively and do what I call predatory trapping. Please note below Drill B: -
The Defender (left) maintains distance with the Enemy (fig 1) in order to set up for a pre-emptive strike (fig 2).
However, if the Enemy manages to react and bring his arm up to obstruct the strike (fig 3) then the Defender can proceed to use predatory trapping skills.
Fig 4 shows the Defender using his left hand to clear the Enemy's arm out of the way, then the Defender slides forward maintaining control of the Enemy's arm (fig 5) and finally finishing off with a strike to the head of the Enemy.
Drill A looks at the kata techniques from a reactionary mindset and Drill B looks at the kata techniques from a pro-active mindset. Both drills will work and should be taught, but we need to be clear that Drill B is the preference when confronted by an enemy intent on doing us harm, We need to frame our training with the understanding that out of our two drills above, our first physical response should be the one in which we utilize pre-emptive strikes with full intent followed by Predatory Trapping and further striking over reactionary trapping and counter-attacks.
Trap 2 - Specific defences have specific responses
Whilst I think that many reading this will be aware of Trap 1 - Reactionary Mindset , Trap 2 is a little more subtle and easier to fall into without realising it.
The notion of log-jam is one we all want to avoid, so learning 100 ways to get out of a headlock is going to be counter-productive. I’m sure we’ve all heard the story of the rabbit who knows 10 methods of escaping the fox and is eaten before he could decide which method to use, whereas the rabbit who only knew one method survived as he had already escaped.
To avoid log-jam, many practitioners learn set techniques to use against set attack scenarios (ie defending against a hockey punch, or what to do when the enemy blocks a pre-emptive strike). An unwanted outcome of isolating different attack scenarios is that practitioners can become conditioned to react to certain situations in specific ways.
The reason that this unwanted is that training becomes too specific. What happens is that training becomes too technique-orientated and as soon as the attack scenario is modified even slightly the technique begins to fail. We have all experienced this, think about a time you are learning a new technique in class and you are practicing with a training partner and as you finally get to grips with, your instructor asks you to change partners. and at that point your ability to perform the technique vanishes. Usually, this is because your new partner is a slightly different build or reacts slightly different than what your previous partner did, Let's look at some examples.
As a follow up to Drill B, the Enemy may manages to put his head out of position to be struck. If that occurs one option is to apply a jointlock to the Enemy. In Example 1, I follow-up with the Tekki/Naihanchi Armbar using the gedan-barai motion.
Example 2 is also a follow up to Drill B, but the attacker has a large size and weight advantage. Therefore, the Defender needs to adapt the technique in order to suit the particular circumstances they are in.
Whilst the techniques at Examples 1 and 2 are different, the concepts behind the techniques are the same.
Although the concepts taught in the armbars from Examples 1 and 2 were from the attack scenario of Drill B, they could have been used from a variety of attack scenarios. Anytime the Enemy's arm is in a position to be locked, it can be. We need to ensure we don’t fall into the habit of linking specific attack scenarios with specific techniques. We need to realise due to the dynamics of real violence, things change quickly and we need to be able to adapt to what is happening and do whatever is “right” in that moment.
Of course, to start with we need to learn certain techniques from set attack scenarios, but as time goes on we need to begin to move past static training and begin to include dynamic drills where the enemy can have a more freedom to react so that the defender can begin to use whatever technique works in the situation they are in..
Until next time!