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genkaimade's picture
Grabbing/limb control and combat sports

Dear all, Over the last year or two, I have been spending less and less time in the dojo environment (difficulty finding places worth training at...), and more and more time just going full-contact with training partners, whoever they may be/whatever styles they come from etc. . One thing that I have noticed, is that the more these matches resemble mma-style bouts, the more difficult it is to secure the initial grab on the opponent (be it wrist/leg/head etc. etc.) that so much of our karate makes use of (be it through hikite or otherwise). The only way I have found that I can make it work consistantly in these environments is to effectively completely refuse to fully engage/close distance until the opponenent is frustrated enough to leave an arm hanging out/attempt a sloppy kick or something of the sort. As a result, I suppose my question is whether anyone has found ways of imposing the limb control/initial grabs that we depend upon with our more self-defence orientated karate, in combat sport type environments, with particular effectiveness. A.

Leigh Simms
Leigh Simms's picture

Hi genkaimade,

I think you make a valid point and reminds me of Anko Itosu when he said "Karate is not intended to be used against a single assailant but instead as a way of avoiding injury by using the hands and feet should one by any chance be confronted by a villain or ruffian" and Motobu when he said "Techniques of kata were never developed to be used against a professional fighter, in an arena or on a battlefield. They were, however, most effective against someone who has no idea of the strategy being used to counter their aggressive behaviour."

Because the environment will dictate the rules and ultimately the stratergies and tactics required to win. I would think it is better to focus on the skills that work well in the mutual-combat environment rather than attempting to make "civilian self-protection concepts" fit in the wrong box. 

But to answer your question, when sparring against trained fighters I dont seek out limb control but definately make use of if when it arises. Once the distance closes the skills can be used and the same principles can be found in a lot of groundwork too! 

Wastelander's picture

I'm in agreement with Leigh. There are certainly situations where limb control come into play in MMA-style sparring and fighting, but you aren't going to find them as often or as easily as you would against an untrained, committed attack. There are a couple reasons for that. Primarily, it's because you are fighting a trained opponent, who has been taught to immediately withdraw their strikes, to throw feints, and to not overcommit. On top of that, they may have developed enough tactile sensitivity through grappling training to feel what is happening and work to counter it. Now, all that said, you can certainly force limb control situations in MMA-style sparring and fighting. Motobu actually showed one way of doing it--that is, stepping in when they punch so you can trap the other hand before it gets to fire off. Generally, if you get close enough to clinch, you can start working on the arms, although most people don't do that. I do happen to have some GIFs of a recent example of that showing up in the UFC, over this past weekend, though:



In those GIFs, you can see Vik Grujic is in clinching range, but transitions from more traditional clinchwork to limb control, enabling him to land a large volume of undefended strikes. If he hadn't been so tired by this point in the fight, or if he wasn't wearing gloves, those could have been really devastating.

If you want to see limb control in MMA, from striking range, then I highly advise you take a look at Matt Brown, Johny Hendricks, and Robbie Lawler. All three of them make extensive use of trapping and limb control at punching range.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Closing the gap is a much needed skills for one on one duelling. We do find it in modern karate sparring, but it is absent from the older methodology of kata. The reason for this are twofold. Firstly, self-protection situations tend to start close and stay close (so there is no gap to close). Secondly, for self-protection purposes we don’t want to close any gap, but instead increase it (2 or 3 miles is good).

When it comes to fighting each other we need to use appropriate methods. The key to me is the skilled footwork, drawing and feinting needed to close distance. There are innumerable ways to gain access to limbs in “duelling” context, but one simple one is to use appropriate footwork to close distance and deliver a barrage of strikes to the head of your partner. When they block or cover, the arms will present themselves.

The bottom lie though is we should use sparring methods for sparring, and self-protection methods for self-protection. Goal should always define the optimum methods of achieving that goal. Despite some crossover, it’s generally not good to take the solution to one problem and try to apply it to a differing problem.

All the best,


genkaimade's picture

Thank you all for the excellent points! I am of course in agreement with you all. My reason for fixation on our definitely sd-intended limb control in spite of the 'right thing for the context' and of course the limits of the transferability of skills across contexts which more or less goes without saying, is more in light of the effectiveness of it. I find securing a clean grab and follow up of some description more often than not secures (at least the start of) the end of the encounter with more efficacy than any other tactic; "winning" by stopping the other person from being able to fight freely, much as the Gracies did in early UFC bouts. I can't remember which military strategian it was that said that he who controls the choice of battlefield/context in a conflict has a massive upper hand, but in any case I think there is definite room in mma for classical karate principles/strategies to be taken advantage of/imposed. Thank you all for the great input once again! I will of course post if over time I stumble across any particularly useful strategies! (My apologies for any typos etc., put together on my phone in a very long rainy queue!)

genkaimade's picture

Some more limits of that transferability were found over the weekend via a slightly broken nose. Namely boxing gloves and kickboxing rules make things quite difficult, especially against people that have trained for said specific context. Seems absurdly obvious with the benefit of hindsight.

DaveB's picture

All techniques can be made to work, it's just a matter of either waiting for the right conditions or creating them. We have to understand why a method works at all and where it's weaknesses are.

Limb control in duelling is often better applied offensively as in the trapping methods of wing chun. Applying it to the opponents guard while they are on the back foot can be very effective. The weakness of that method is being clinched, but if you focus on using such methods for entry strikes only and not for drilling into the opponent there is less risk. 

You also mentioned drawing out over-committed strikes to use limb control as a counter offensive method. While not the, safest method to use for limb control striking, drawing out openings like that is an art in its self. However unless you intend to grapple you are better off just striking.

The main thing to remember is that while you're manipulating limbs your not hitting and you run the risk of being grappled in response. The solution is to know when to trap and when to just press the advantage and punch repeatedly (more often than not it's punching we need).