It could be one of the most common poor practices I see in martial arts today. Chances are you do it, occasionally at least. I know I still do it from time to time, although I’m trying to quit…
This bad habit isn’t confined to any one art; it’s across the board, prevalent and persistent.
It’s the bad practice of tailoring attacks to fit the defense.
Dangerous and unrealistic, yet it creeps into our day-to-day martial arts practice, often unrealized.
Truly, I think it has innocent beginnings. It doesn’t start out as the insidious entity that it becomes. It is born of basic practice on the mechanics of a technique. When you are first learning, you do so from a set number of attacks. A wrist grab or lapel grab is used to teach an arm bar, for example. This is a good thing. As time goes on, however, you need to learn how to adapt a technique, or select a different one, if your opponent doesn’t grab ‘right’. Often, without even realizing it, we re-set our attacker. We make them adjust their attack to fit our planned defense.
I think we can all think of a time when a new student attacked you ‘wrong’. You asked for a punch and they didn’t step in with the correct foot, or you asked for a grab and they grabbed backwards. We patiently explained that they needed to correct their attack. Then we wowed them with our knowledge and ability to respond with perfect technique.
Now, it should be mentioned that there is some merit to correcting an ‘incorrect’ attack. There are certain commonalities that are important to know about real and committed attacks. Most follow a pattern to a degree. Not many people throw an uncommitted straight punch at you that stops several inches too short (not many actually ever throw a straight punch, but that’s another topic).
Correcting a student so that they throw or apply a technique that would actually land and/or do damage is a good practice.
Not figuring out what to do with a committed attack that is done ‘wrong’ is a bad practice. Combat is unpredictable. People do bizarre, unanticipated things. In fact, untrained fighters can sometimes be the most dangerous opponents, as they don’t follow any of the ‘rules’ when it comes to attacking.
I did a couple posts on Aikido recently. Working on the posts, I ended up watching a whole bunch of associated videos on YouTube.
Aikido has some bad habits. Many of the attacks are initiated from an imagined sword attack, with the attacker’s hand held as if it was holding a sword handle, sort of like a lazy downward chop.
I appreciate that Aikido was partially developed with this scenario in mind, and that’s great, but you are less likely to face a sword this days than in feudal times.
Beyond this example, which could be defended by applying it to an offender that might be armed with a bat, baton, bottle, or stick, there are other bad habits.
Take the grab.
Grabs do occur, so I have no issues with practicing defenses against them. What should be remembered though, is that grabs are not typically done just for the sake of grabbing; they are being used to do something else. Usually, it’s a grab and pull, or a grab and strike. It is part of a larger picture, a means to a nasty end. To just have your opponent grab your wrist and hold it is not a productive exercise.
When I watch some Aikido demonstrations, I see an outstretched hand and arm being offered to the attacker, often at a specific angle. The attacker grabs the proffered limb or joint and is subsequently sent for a ride, tossed about effortlessly by the demonstrator.
What I don’t see is the nefarious intent on the part of the attacker. And the attack is static. They simply grab the offered limb, and that’s it. No pulling, no strike attempt. They run around reaching for the fully extended hand. It's pretty clear that grabbing a hold of that hand or wrist is their end game. If the person demonstrating did nothing, I'm pretty sure the 'attacker' would just end up frozen with their own arm outstretched, shocked that they had actually caught that illusive rabbit...
Who the heck would ever do this? This is not an attack you will face. That’s why it’s a problem.
A similar thing happens in Kali/Escrima. When you watch two knife or stick fighters engaging in a demonstration or practice, quite often you realize they are fighting using the same ‘rule book’. The attack, parry, counter attack all follow a certain flow, a certain stance is maintained, as is the distance between one another. What happens if someone breaks the rules? Well, they either get cut (a very real possibility) or they might end up landing a good strike or cut on their opponent since they broke rhythm. Just as with my Aikido examples, I'm not saying that these drills don't have some value. They improve hand eye coordination, timing, breathing and all that, but the drills, in and of themselves, do not necessarily denote combat ability, or applicability. If you don't move beyond the set-pattern style of practice, you are selling yourself short.
Watching one video led to watching lots of videos. A video on Aikido led to one on Kali which led to one on Karate, then Ninjutsu, then Jiu Jitsu, and so on and so forth.
I kept seeing the same thing. My own beloved Jiu Jitsu is by no means exempt from these bad habits.
Now, as far as demonstrations go, I do understand that there is a certain degree of showmanship involved and you must take into account the safety of the uke (he/she receiving the technique) as well, so I dug a bit deeper.
I started finding clips recorded by students in dojos, clips on self defense websites, blogs etc.
Suffice to say, the problem of tailoring an attack to fit a defense is widespread. When you look for it, you'll see it.
In Part II, I'll look at some things we can do to fix this problem.