In the video below Michael Bisping talks about the upcoming Mayweather vs. McGregor fight. This part is very relevant to many of the discussions we have here:
“When I’m sparring somebody, I like them to spar me, box me, strike me, kickbox, whatever, the way it’s supposed to be done. So, If I’m going against a good guy that’s polished, that’s trained for a while, I’ll do really good. But then you may get some guy, that’s kind of a beginner but he’s game, and he wants to have a go and you say, “Yeah, sure. We will do a couple of rounds” and then he’s catching me with all this ####### stupid stuff. And I’m like, “What the #### are you doing!? You are just [freaking] out! (#)” And he’s like, “Well, yeah. But I caught you didn’t I?” It’s because he’s so unorthodox in his movement. So, I was thinking that may work for Connor verses Floyd.”
It’s a good observation, and one I’m sure most people can relate too. Beginners are the worst people to spar with because “they don’t do it right”. As one of my teachers puts it, “You are trying to play an advanced game of chess, and they are playing draughts (checkers).”
What this underlines is that skills are always specific to the enemy being faced. What works against a skilled fighter, may not work against a beginner. There is not the “hierarchy” that most people think there is. The common thinking of, “If I can get this to work against a skilled fighter, then I can get it to work on anyone” does not hold up to scrutiny.
I remember working on a combination in the judo club where I would go for one throw and, if the enemy killed it, I would use their response to feed into another (ippon-seoi-nage to ko-uchi-gake). It seemed to be flowing nicely in the club (where I was working with high level judoka), but when I tried it in a kyu grade competition it did not work as well. It got my opponent over, but it did not feel clean or as powerful as in the club. It scored yuko. I went on to win the match with a straight ippon-seoi-nage. When I came off the mat I asked my judo coach what I did wrong with the first combination. He told me what I did was fine, but my opponent was not good enough for it to work! Essentially, they did not kill the first throw as efficiently as a dan grade would and hence I did not get what I needed for the second throw.
I have discussed this with two very well know martial artists (both judo dan grades, although that’s not what they are primarily known for) who had also spent most to their time training with dan grades to find that kyu grades were a more difficult fight because of their unpredictability and the fact that you could not use your mutual skill set to anticipate certain actions and reactions.
As we have discussed many times, this has huge implications for self-defence. One of the big problems when martial artists teach self-defence is that they reinvent criminals as martial artists. They switch keeping yourself safe from criminal activity into a one-on-one “street fight”. They make the incorrect (and arrogant?) assumption that martial artists of their own kind are the apex predator in all environments. Then what happens is criminals act like criminals and their fighting solution, which was designed to deal with fighters within a mutually agreed framework, fails in catastrophic fashion.
The criminal does not want a fight; they want to harm. The criminal does not put up a guard and square off. A mutually agreed fight always starts from such a neutral position. The criminal will use surprise, deception, accomplices and weapons to gain an (“unfair”) advantage. The fighter is conditioned to act in certain ways. The criminal does not share your martial skill set (and that gives them an advantage, not the often-assumed disadvantage, because their actions are “unknown” to you and can’t be anticipated as accurately).
As Sun Tzu said, we need to know our enemy. The false assumption that because something works against a skilled fighter then it will work on anyone, in any other context, is widespread and hugely problematic.
Michael Bisping is an elite level fighter and he is clear that in sparring (fighting) he does better against other high-level fighters than he does against “game beginners” who throw “####### stupid stuff”. As I say, I think that is an experience we can all share to some degree.
Remember that in this context Michael Bisping was trying to spar with these people. He’s not saying “throwing ####### stupid stuff” makes one more effective than skilled fighters! If he was, then the UFC champion would always be a raw beginner! That’s obviously not how it works. What he’s saying is if you fight with a certain expectation, and your opponent does not share that expectation, then things can catch you by surprise. In such a fight, your opponent won’t act or react as you anticipate and that throws a huge spanner in the works.
The big problem is that the majority of martial artists assume the criminal will act as a martial artist would. That’s a very dangerous assumption. Another related and equally dangerous assumption is the expectation that if the criminal does not act as a fighter would (i.e. Assumption A does not hold true), then they will be easy to deal with because trained fighters are superior to criminals. There is not this assumed hierarchy and continuity because of the radically different contexts and objectives.
I’ve done quite a few podcasts on this topic recently:
Thinking Like a Criminal:
Two things criminals know about violence that you should know too:
Personally, I like working on both fighting (of different types) and self-defence. They are both valuable and beneficial. You can practise both separately. But if you make the assumption that they are the same, then you could be in for a nasty shock when you find out your enemy does not share that assumption.
The fact that elite level fighters can experience problems when the person they are facing does not act as one would expect should give everyone pause for thought. If they have that issue, then you can be sure we mere mortals are going to have it too. It’s true in fighting, and it’s true in self-defence. There is a definite need for martial artists to accept that in self-defence we are in the criminal’s world. If we assume they are in ours (in the dojo, on the mat, in the ring or cage where we reign supreme), then we have it back to front and it won’t end well. Martial artists often make the assumption that the criminal will “play the game” we know how to play. And when they play their own game, we are left bewildered, hurt or worse.
All the best,
PS (#) – A potentially offensive word was used so I replaced it. The actual word used is deemed to be offensive by some (particularly here in the UK), and yet is considered inoffensive and benign by others. In this instance it was used as a slang to infer wild motion and I doubt any offense was intended. However, I’d prefer to avoid repeating it.
PPS Here is the video (2:06 to 2:44).
WARNING: Contains bad language.