I have to say that the older I get, the less devoted I am to clever, technique-oriented self-defense training, particularly that which relies heavily on fine motor skill kinds of movements. Those skills, executed mostly in dojos and other controlled environments by people who practice them all day long, certainly look good as demonstrated in those settings, but they are often of limited utility in real-life situations. Even highly-trained martial artists and other self-defense experts will find their skills of little value in spur-of-the-moment, adrenaline-charged scenarios where instinct tends to supplant technical training, and the net result is that the strongest person, with the fastest and best punches, wins the day.
Given this, while I am obviously fine with technical training, I am less fine with it if it is not a complement to attaining expertise in “the basics:” fitness and developed striking power. You will find that when it comes to a real-life street assault, the greater the proficiency you’ve attained in each of these areas, the better off you will be, regardless of whatever else you know.
Let’s talk about fitness for a bit. I have found it unpopular, in some circles, to be of the opinion that the best first step to effective self-defense is to cultivate and maintain a high level of physical conditioning. There are those who feel that the ability to defend oneself in a hand-to-hand situation should not mean that a person has to slave for many hours each week at a rigorous physical fitness regimen in order to have that ability; the brutal reality, however, is that the person who is strong and fit stands the better chance of prevailing in a hand-to-hand, self-defense altercation. I remember years ago listening to professional wrestling powerhouse John Cena talk about how, when he wanted to be better prepared to defend himself as a young man, he decided that he could either learn karate or lift weights, and that his preference was to lift weights. Cena is an extraordinarily fit, strong man now, and the likelihood that a less-fit person with good technical skills could get the best of him on the street seems remote. That is, he has made his physicality such a formidable entity that it is improbable a person possessing only technical self-defense skills would be able to defeat him.
Cena’s example is a good one for us all. Male or female, doing the best to turn one’s body into a piece of steel is going to be the best first line of defense if attacked.
The other, related component to best-defense preparation is cultivating the ability to strike…hit and kick…with tremendous speed and power. In sudden, real-life attacks on the street…characterized largely by lots of adrenaline which can serve as a formidable obstacle to the execution of precise movements…even the highly-trained will instinctively resort to the most basic striking techniques. Accordingly, rather than fight that reality, one would do well to instead recognize it, embrace it, and spend a not-insignificant amount of time developing and maintaining proficiency in those techniques he knows he is most likely to deploy when attacked.
Some possess the natural ability to strike fast and hard, while others have to develop it. Even those who do come by it organically should practice it to become even more devastating. One of the best ways to practice is to invest in a sturdy heavy bag, one appropriate for both punching and kicking (those with outer shells made of vinyl are good candidates), and get yourself in a daily training regimen that involves punching and kicking the bag as fast and as powerfully as you can. You don’t need to learn or practice anything clever to develop prowess in basic punching and kicking. If you need some help in seeing just how to work a heavy bag with simple punches and kicks, YouTube is an excellent resource. Again, this does not mean that you can’t learn more complex moves, as well, or that those will be of no use to you…but until you master the very basics, you’re largely wasting your time with the others.
As a bit of an aside, it is also worth noting that both combat conditioning and striking proficiency can be achieved via solo training. For any of a variety of reasons, those genuinely dedicated to training will often find themselves in the position of going it alone. However, that reality need not derail your success at attaining mastery in each “core” area.
(The above noted, I remain a huge believer in the value of full-contact sparring, which cannot be done alone. I have previously addressed the great utility of sparring for self-defense training, and will surely do so again, but I wanted to leave the discussion in this article to the matter of absolute basics.)
I want to be clear: this is not me saying that there is no value to technical training. There certainly can be a benefit derived from developed technical skills, but they should be seen by you as icing on the cake, so to speak. The reality is that a given street assault will so often unfold in a way that prevents you from deploying those skills. and if that is the case, you will be left to rely on your base physical prowess and striking power – make sure you’ve maximized both.
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