Following up on my last post on the topic of martial arts and self defense, I thought it would be prudent to discuss some of the core principles I have learned over the years that strangely seem to get overlooked at most martial arts schools. Today we are going to cover just some basic concepts that are applicable regardless what style you decide to train in, but in the future we will look at some more specific concepts that you will find interesting.
First and Foremost, Situational Awareness
Seriously, if you do not have a strong sense of your surroundings at all times, no secret kung fu techniques taught only to monks way up in the Tibetan mountains will help you. Situational awareness is simply knowing what is going on in your immediate vicinity at all times. This doesn’t mean you need to size up every single person you pass on the streets, but you need to take a quick glance around from time to time to see if something doesn’t pass the sniff test.
Someone crossing the street to intercept you.
Someone watching you intently as you walk by.
Someone reaching into his jacket as you get close.
It does you no good if you’re a black belt in 12 different martial arts if you are completely oblivious to your surroundings. When you’re out and about, make it a point to be constantly surveying your surroundings for anything that stands out, even if you’re in a safe area. Develop the habit of being aware. One exercise I’ll do when out is to quickly scan people and try to assess where weapons could be hidden on them. It’s all about being vigilant to possible dangers, but not constantly strung out about it.
The SAS Self-Defense system has a good breakdown that I find helpful. It’s basically broken down into 3 levels.
- Level 1: Completely Relaxed – This is reserved for areas you are completely safe in, such as your house. There’s no danger of someone coming up behind you with a gun to mug you, no traffic to look out for, etc.
- Level 2: Relaxed Awareness – As soon as you step out of your door, you should adopt this mindset. As you go about your day, be sure to look around your surroundings for anything amiss. At any point in time, you should be aware of who’s around you and what they’re doing.
- Level 3: Danger – Some guy locks eyes on you from the sidewalk across the street and begins crossing the street as he reaches in his jacket for something. It’s go time. Your adrenaline begins pumping. You develop tunnel vision. Everything slows down. You’ve reached Level 3 where fight or flight becomes very real.
Sadly, most people nowadays are in Level 1 all the time. Lulled in by a false sense of security, the walk around with earbuds in, eyes down on their smartphones barely looking up to cross a street of fast moving traffic. Dumb. Dumb. Dumb.
As a man, you have a duty to be aware of your surroundings and ready to immediately jump into action if the situation warrants it.
As a husband and father, you have the same duty a thousandfold!
In fights, speed is king. The faster opponent can get in, strike his opponent, and get back out before his opponent has a chance to retaliate. On the subjects of martial arts and self-defense, it is my humble opinion that all other physical attributes come second to speed.
That being said, there are multiple facets to speed that must be trained. Having explosive speed for your techniques is great, but being able to quickly and smoothly transition from one technique to the next is even better.
I covered this in my first post, but it bears repeating. When you begin training, devote equal amounts of time to not only making your techniques as fast and powerful as possible, but also to effortlessly chaining them together. Spend time analyzing the end position of your body after one technique and what accommodations can be made to make the transition to your next technique quicker. If you need a big windup for each attack, you better hope to finish off your opponent before he can learn your pattern which brings us to our next point…
Telegraphing simply means having a tell that gives away what you’re about to do. Some basic examples of telegraphing are:
- Shifting your feet before throwing a kick.
- Shifting your center of weight.
- Either going from steady movement to still or vice versa before attacking.
- Winding back for a punch.
- Focusing your gaze on where you’re about to strike.
All of these examples are visual cues that clue your opponent in that you are about to go on the offensive. When training, be mindful of this and work at not changing your pattern/fighting stance/cadence right before an attack.
Part of telegraphing can be corrected by proper flow. If you are able to smoothly transition from technique to technique, you are effectively hiding your intent partially because each technique is feeding into the next and partially because your opponent will be too busy trying to avoid getting pummeled to try and read your body language. Watch a master perform a flurry of techniques on someone and you will see what I mean. The defender is flinching and flailing about just trying not to be overwhelmed. There’s no opportunity to launch a counterattack.
While I was composing this list, I thought up of enough additional points to create a follow-up article to this one so look out for that in the near future.
There is much mysticism around martial arts and its practitioners, but that needn’t be the case. A strict methodical approach will help shed light on learning how to effectively defend you and your family and cut through all the fluff. By applying these basic principles I’ve outlined above, you will find yourself surpassing most of your peers (unless your instructor is astute enough to be teaching said principles to the rest of the class).
Take on the role of a scientist performing many small experiments. If you change your foot position to X, how does it affect Y? If you pull back on X kick instead of following through, does it make Y kick easier? Formulate hypotheses, test them out, and make note of the outcomes.
Questions? Comments? Leave them down below.