Sunday, February 25, 2007

How to Spar an Aggressive Opponent

You know the type. I am discussing those people in sparring who are constantly trying to take your head off and that are almost always on the attack. Here is what NOT to do: what most people do! Most individuals back up to try to avoid getting hit from aggressive sparring partners, and then to try to counter-attack. This is not a good fighting strategy. Backing up is NOT the answer. Action is faster than reaction and it won't be long before you get "clipped" with a nasty shot.

Here is what has worked for me (and many other fighters) that have had to spar these types of opponents:

You need to stop the opponent's aggressive offense before he is able to build his momentum. One way to do this is to try to hit him as soon as he starts his offensive sequence. This involves good timing and perception on your part, but with enough practice and consistency in sparring, you will discover its advantage as a method of defeating this type of fighter.

Try it out and let me know how it works.

Friday, February 23, 2007

How to practice forms and stay motivated

If you only study one style of the martial arts, you may over an extended period of time lose interest in performing the same katas over and over again. The reason is that people often become bored in life with the mundane, that is, the same routine over and over again. Like marriage, for example, katas need “romance” to keep things refreshed and alive! You don’t believe me? Then why is it that I am often very impressed with the skill level of someone performing a specific kata, and then five years down the road, the same person performing the kata doesn’t move with the same fluidity, balance, posture, or agility? Is it because the individual has practiced it less and less over the years? Perhaps. But maybe, just maybe, it is because the individual has less interest in the kata then he/she did when it was first learned.

Here are some refreshing ideas to keep the fire for kata burning:

(1) Go through your forms very slowly to accentuate the finer details before commencing the form at regular speed

(2) Visualize an attacker coming at you as you are performing the form. Do this when practicing the form slowly as well as at regular speed

(3) Be sure that your counterattack and offense during the forms was enough to stop the opponent from coming back for more. Do not be concerned about how fancy you look

(4) Practice your kata blindfolded or with your eyes closed

(5) Try to end the kata in the same position that you started the form

(6) Try choreographing your form to one of your favorite songs. I have always loved “The Power” by Snap!

(7) Practice outdoors in the spring, summer, and fall, and get a tan while you are at it!

Monday, February 19, 2007

Are you training for the most common street attacks?

There are so many martial arts schools that do not have self-defense technique curriculums required for the various belt ranks up to black belt level and beyond. Those that do are often training for self-defense scenarios that are unrealistic in nature, the most common of which is the right step-through punch. I see so many instructors teaching this attack, yet simple observation shows me that the students in the dojo can’t even execute the attack correctly because it is so anatomically unnatural! But somehow, this attack is supposed to be common for the street? Go figure.

Here is a fact. The vast majority of people who throw a punch on the street will do so via a right step-through roundhouse punch. This punch will usually occur after a series of verbal attacks, often complimented by pushing.

Another common attack is the wild haymaker punch. For those attackers that have been drinking, one of the easiest ways to deal with this punch is to execute a fast front ball kick to the opponent’s midsection as he exposes his centerline while executing the attack. The momentum of the opponent’s attack, combined with the hard front ball kick on the way in should drive the opponent into Section 320, Row M, Seat 5.

Question: what types of self-defense scenarios are you training?

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Should you be practicing your self-defense techniques on both sides?

There is no doubt that American Kenpo Karate is a right side dominant martial art and that this can be said of many martial arts styles. The reason that it is right side dominant is that most people are right handed. For people who are left handed, they usually have no difficulty learning the system since Kenpo is based on proper body mechanics.

One question that I guessed asked from time to time, and one which is particularly important in American Kenpo Karate where there are 154 self-defense techniques to learn to obtain a black belt, is if one should be practicing their self-defense techniques equally on the left side to balance things out and to make oneself an overall better martial artist? The answer quite simply is no.

Why? The reason is that when we are stressed, and there is someone trying to take our head off, our brain will respond via the dominant side regardless of how much time is devoted to training on the left side. That doesn’t mean in anyway that we don’t need to be effective on both sides. What it means is that the right and left side movements are utilized differently. In effect, what American Kenpo does is take advantage of a person’s strength on both sides.

Moreover, trying to devote time to practicing techniques on both sides takes away from the time needed to practice the system as was designed. It also blinds one’s potential of being able to see things from your style’s dominant side.

I have heard many people claim that they are ambidextrous. Ambidexterity, however, in the truest sense, is not possible. Take advantage of learning your style as designed.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

My recommendations for martial arts instruction in London, Ontario

With the rise of so many commercial martial arts schools that promote kids to black belt like candy, don’t worry, not all are like this!

In all of the schools below, you won't find people playing tag for points when sparring. The fighters can HIT and TAKE IT, and the students learn a full range of martial arts skills and maneuvers. All of the head instructors are very experienced and teach realistic street self-defense.

The following schools are all top-notch and are my top five picks (in no particular order) in London, Ontario:

(1) Northern Black Dragon Martial Arts - Paul Chau

(2) Round One - Brad Fowler and Leo Loucks

(3) White Dragon Kung Fu - Mike Doucet

(4) Team Tompkins Muay Thai and Submission - Shawn Tompkins

(5) Universal Karate Studios - Jamie Seabrook

Monday, February 5, 2007

Great Sparring Drill

Watch most beginners spar and you'll notice the desperation in their faces, as well as in their offense and defense. Most punches are attempted "home runs" as the fighter tries everything to ward off the oncoming attack and land the "big punch". The fighters, especially in the early stages of training, are often timid about being hit, and are way too tense, resulting in slower reflexes on defense and the tendency to get tired really quick. The same occurs among intermediate and advanced ranked students, particularly those who spar very infrequently. You will also notice a natural tendency for beginners to close their eyes, both when being struck at, as well as when on the offense. This is a bad habit to develop and one that must be overcome.

One of my favorite sparring drills that I developed several years ago is as follows. Two people partner up. One person removes his belt, while the other wraps his belt around the waist of himself and his partner. The end of the belt is then tied together so that both partners are literally within breathing distance of one another. The two partners are wearing their handgear and begin throwing punches at one another. Obviously being that close together, it is imperative to (1) keep your hands up at all times (2) keep your elbows in to avoid shots to the kidney, ribs, and midsection (3) keep your eyes open at all times. This drill is extremely tiring and forces one to learn to put hand combinations together, to pick targets appropiately, to avoid dropping one's hands as is so characteristic in point fighters, and to gain confidence in fighting in-close or what we in Kenpo call the control manipulation range.

This drill can be practiced with a partner for any length of time, but for a good workout, I recommend 3, two or three minute rounds. Once loosed from being tied up with your partner, and you return to your regular continuous sparring routine, you will find your hand speed is lightning fast, that you will be able to hit with awesome power, and that your combinations will flow with excellent continuity.

Try it today, and let me know how it works for you.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Sparring - Are you getting the real deal?

Too often martial artists spend the vast majority of their time working on kata or weapons-based kata. Parents, especially at McDojos, view their child’s success and skill based on how many trophies little Johnnie can win while doing everything in the air. Even worse, martial art studio owners can boast of how many “world champions” he has produced in point-sparring, a type of fighting which is highly conducive for kids of all ages. Why? Because it is very possible that little Johnnie could outpoint an adult 5-3, but wouldn’t be able to defend himself against the same opponent for more than 30 seconds if there were no stops.

I know what your thinking. I must be one of the guys who have not had much success in kata or point-sparring in tournaments. Not true. I too have “played the game” with a considerable amount of success, but this whole sport karate thing is really starting to get carried away. Kids as young as age 7 or 8 are obtaining their black belts. By the time these students are 16, some of them are as high as 4th degree black belt!

In a real street encounter, there are no stops every time a punch or kick makes contact. There are no warnings or disqualifications if someone kicks below the waist, or for punches too hard to the body or the head. There are no “time-outs” so that your instructor can give you a few pointers of how to land a quick reverse punch or lead leg side kick for the final point. No, I am not recommending that full-contact sparring is a necessity for everyone, but I do advocate continuous fighting with a certain degree of heavy contact.

Kenpo Karate (and many other arts for that matter) is known for its practical and lethal street self-defense techniques. But there is a big difference from being able to move fast, and hit with considerable accuracy when the attack is choreographed and your uki moves exactly as planned. It is a whole different ball game trying to make it all work in continuous sparring when nothing is choreographed and the guy staring back at you is trying to take your head off.
We need to spar, and we need to spar often. We need to make our fights more “real” so that we are better prepared for an actual street encounter. Through continuous fighting, we build up endurance, learn to put our combinations together more effectively, and truly learn what it is like to have to take a few hits and then come back. If the vast majority of our sparring sessions are point-fighting, we aren’t getting the real deal.

Martial arts is about many things, but the last I checked, self-defense is one of its top priorities. Is it not?