By: Dave Sargent, San Jose, CA
The ability, or lack thereof, by karate practitioners to survive in a real life street fighting confrontation has been discussed on this web site as well as in numerous magazine articles and other media. While the debate goes on, I think it would be safe to say that our practice in Uechi-ryu, Shohei-ryu, and other disciplines is, at the least, better than no preparation at all. Instructors in the fighting arts can impart some basic mindset fundamentals to their students that will help in the event a self defense situation arises, and a physical confrontation is inevitable.
One of our biggest assets in the dojo or on the street is body conditioning. Done properly, the conditioning builds strong bones and tough limbs that can withstand abuse which would put many people down. It is unlikely that most of us would initiate an attack, so it is safe to say that you may be struck by an attacker before you realize the need to defend yourself. An asset here is our Sanchin stance. Unlike other karate stances, our Sanchin stance doesn’t look confrontational. In fact, most would not even notice that you are in a karate stance at all. A perfect Sanchin stance isn’t required; just something close which has good centering and allows for quick movement. The initial stages of a confrontation usually involve a verbal exchange, and during this phase it is important to have your hands in a useful position and still not look confrontational. Having your hands at your side is inviting disaster, so you should have your hands up. With your hands in a near closed gate position (like at the end of Sanchin kata), you are positioned to have some success at blocking a head strike by an antagonist, and from that position you can throw a hard jab to his face very quickly. Furthermore, such a person would probably notice that your hands in that position would limit his attack options, and he may decide not to attack in which case a physical incident my not ensue at all. Such posturing and an air of confidence may be the best self defense in situations where simply
walking away isn’t an option.
Some useful skills for street fighting situations can be acquired with dojo practice if you keep your mind set on combat applications. You need to learn to punch hard. The punch should extend toward the target with instantanous acceleration from any location, and at impact full focus and follow through will apply the maximum force of the punch. A heavy bag is useful for this practice. Punch the bag from 6 to 10 inches away, and in time you may find that you can strike it almost as hard as with a fully cocked punch. Unlike tournament tag, self defense requires hard penetrating punches, and the heavy bag is the place to develop these. Sanchin kata thrusting also helps if properly done. The thrust should be connected through the hip to the rear heel and the floor, and it should be done from relaxed to fully focused at it’s terminal point. If your focus is done with the proper snap, you will feel a tingle on the skin of the buttocks and perhaps the back of your shoulder. Forget high kicks. A toe kick with a hard shoe to the nerves on the inside of the upper leg can be as effective as a groin kick, and, in a very serious situation, taking out the opponents knee will immobilize him for a long time. The normally benevolent karateka in such situations needs to become more fierce than the opponent(s) he/she is facing. There are no unfair techniques. Consider biting, gouging, scratching, head butting, and hair pulling just to name a few. The fiercest person will usually prevail.
Currently there is a lot of discussion about the value of free fighting for the black belt test and in the dojo as it relates to street self defense. I agree that dojo sparring and street fighting are totally different, but again free fighting in the dojo is better than nothing. Many years ago, my original sensei, Carl Chrappa, would insist if we got hurt during free fighting that we continue sparring for a short time. In the dojo the tendency is to stop and attend to the injury, but the street makes no such concessions. I recommend to my students, as did Carl, that students use an accidental punch to their face or other minor injury as a call to increased (controlled) fighting intensity. These
accidents seldom happen, but when they do, take advantage of the mishap to develop a survival mindset. In the street if you are attacked and hit, be assured that you will be hit again unless you shake it off and muster all of your abilities to defend yourself.
Prearranged sparring drills done in the dojo are also useful if done with the proper mindset, and the skills learned can be acquired with relative safety. Once the movements of the drill are learned reasonably well insist that your partner throw real punches and kicks with realistic distancing. Don’t insult your partner with techniques that
he/she doesn’t even need to block. The kumite should be realistic, and if you miss a block you should feel your partners controlled punch. The intensity and control with these drills should increase with time and skill. The mindset involves becoming aware of how each strike and block can be done most effectively. The drills we do
are intended to be a safe exercises, and strikes are usually not done directly to the head. A slight upward redirection of a chest punch results in a punch to the jaw. An elbow strike can be done to the heart or raised slightly to the face. At the end of Don Kumite it is usual to strike the right shoulder of the attacker just before attacking the knee for the take down. The shoulder strike could just as well be moved to the jaw, or neck, or become an elbow to the face. If one sets their mind to observe these and other possibilities, it is likely that the more effective technique would be used in a self defense situation. One excellent way to do the kumite drills is to demonstrate each movement of the series in ultra slow motion using face punches and other extreme techniques. Then repeat the series at high speed and focus directing techniques toward less lethal targets. (i.e. Lower the face punches to the chest.)
Instructors and advanced students should make new karateka aware of the real implications of the techniques present in our kata and kumite. Just practicing kata for the art of kata doesn’t develop a complete karateka. We all need to be aware of the implications of the martial side of the martial art, and developing a subconscious combative mindset is necessary for wholeness in ones practice.