Five Simple Rules for Hand to Hand Superiority

This is to fully explain my point of argument with a childhood friend I will call KH. He is a martial arts instructor and is a little sensitive about how this article will reflect on him, so I am using initials. >-P

KH is an old, dear friend of mine. I still remember when we met:  Fighting in the Boys Green Belt and Under ages 13-15 at Tomkins Tournament in 1982, I believe. I won the first place trophy wearing a Kung Fu uniform and his Sensei came over with KH, M. Speaks, and a third boy whose name I don’t remember. They had expected me to be weak and lose, and being that they were studying Shotokan–a very strong version of it, too–were looking past me in this tournament. We had been friends ever since. When I trained at Rock Creek Park with some Egyptian boys I met at the Malaysian embassy (around 1986), KH used to come with me. We were both amazed at how good their Karate was, having studied in Africa. Their father would not allow them to fight in tournaments, but I remember believing they would dominate the circuit if they did. KH was as serious as an inner city Karateka could be. We use to laugh at him because he walked the streets with his Gi bottoms and wooden shoes. Throughout our entire childhood, he was always comparing notes with another martial artist, and he was always good for a fierce sparring match. When I returned from the Philippines in 1990, he and I had a match at Everhart’s tournament at the hotel in Fort Washington, MD. I was competing, but he wasn’t. He had just returned home from the Navy, but still claiming he could kick my ass. We won’t talk about the results of that match.

In the mid 90s, I took him to Alice Lanada’s Kuntaw school in Virginia Beach (he was stationed in Norfolk) because he was dismissing FMAs, after meeting some seminar guys in the area who were afraid to fight. But the day we went, there were only kids, so he and I worked out with GM Lito. Even at his age GM Lito had impressed KH enough that it restored his respect for the Filipino arts. Not long after that, we lost touch and I often wondered what happened to him. Then, a month ago I see a very familiar name come across my email from a form on my school’s website. We’ve talked almost nightly since!

And now, my point. My good friend and warrior, KH, is “dabbling” in Wing Chun because somehow he is convinced that his Shotokan hands are not strong enough. Of course, after sparring with some MMA wannabes (I call them wannabes because these guys have yet to have a match), my friend is clocked a little too much for his taste and he chalked that up to having weak hand skills. Never mind that he admitted that he did not use his kicks out of fear of being taken down (please go back and read my “Clint Eastwood” article). He has good strong hands as well as kicks. But his method of fighting is a combination of both hands and feet–and although he is not a grappler, his stand up from what I recall is excellent. I said it last night my brother… you have to use what your specialty is.

I went through my normal spiel, but since we are 2,500 miles away from each other I can’t prove my point like I normally do. Plus this blog allows me to be able to “say” things a lot better than I am able to do in person, thanks to an editor.

First, let me say that the fighter, regardless of style, must have the same qualities in order to have full effectiveness when using the hands. If you have very strong hand (striking) technique–strength in terms of skill, not power–anything you add to them will be multiplied. But if you have weak hand skill, you can add BJJ, Aikido, the kitchen sink–you just have a whole lot of mediocrity. And the difference between a mediocre Karate man, a mediocre boxer, a mediocre grappler and a mediocre MMA guy is that the MMA guy sucks at more things.

Here are my five rules, which are repeated several different places on this blog. But you can’t read them enough. Keep reading them until they have found a way into your arsenal:

  1. You must have a probe. And everything comes off the probe. Do you ever play hot hands? Do you vary the speed? Or do you sometimes move full speed and sometimes move slow? That is what a probe is for; to vary the tempo of the action so that the opponent cannot adjust himself to the varied power levels, speed and timing. You have to sometimes use power, sometimes use speed, sometimes commit and sometimes probe at your opponent. Even the man with fast hands can be timed and beaten to the punch.
  2. You must fight by combination. If you are only fighting with counterattacks (this is one of your weaknesses, if you still fight the same way), you are a sitting duck waiting for the opponent to dictate when the action is going to happen or not. And when you attack, you have to be capable of throwing a barrage of attacks that keeps your opponent from being able to hit back. Using the combination also robs your opponent of confidence. When he is the aggressor, he feels like he is winning the fight and will win the fight. There is a way to counterattack effectively, but it still involves using the combination. If you make your opponent pay dearly for every attack he launches at you, it accomplishes what you want to accomplish:  defeating the opponent. Keep him busy so he won’t have time to kick your behind. Give him too much time to think and attack, and you might have your butt handed to you.
  3. Study and make good use of power mechanics. You already have this down, my friend. But when you spar, I suspect that you are not making use of this skill to your advantage. Take it from me, in sparring with strangers you can be too “polite”. It sounds to me like you were being polite, while those guys were not, and now you are looking at another style. You are a good fighter, but you have to use what you’re good at. Train with power, and be skilled enough to pull that weapon out of your hat whenever you need it. If you must adjust a technique so much that using power is awkward, slow or throws you off-balance, you need to spend more time training with power. It has to be at your fingertips whenever you need it.
  4. Develop footwork that can run down an evading opponent while escaping an attacking opponent. That’s it. Be hard to catch, while also being difficult to get away from. This should be rule #1, now that I think of it…
  5. Study strategy and the art of landing and stopping a punch. This is what I believe you are looking for in Wing Chun. It’s a good style. But (and that’s a BIG “but”) adding WC to Shotokan is like a football player cross training into lap swimming to improve his football. There are many strategies that utilize what you are best at. If you undertake an art that is completely unrelated to what you already do, are you really improving your Shotokan? Or are you just adding an art that you will never be as good at as your Shotokan? Like the MMA guy who is mediocre at 4 styles, you will never improve your Shotokan. Find ways to use what you have to improve the ability to land your strikes and stop your opponent’s strikes. Use what you have to do it. Not what the WC school across town has.

Folks, I’m not anti-cross-training. I am just pro-mastery of what you have. If you take these rules and apply them to what you already do–and you never deviate from them–you will improve what you are able to do already without having to take precious time away from your specialty.

Thanks for visiting my blog.

Clint Eastwood, Last of the True “Tough Guys”

I know what you’re thinking. “What? Thekuntawman is now a movie critic?


Not exactly. Still in the business of martial arts, but I do like watching a good movie. And movies where people die are my kind of movies. Whether they die because of a fight scene, a ghost, or Dirty Harry’s 44 Magnum, I do not have the ability to watch movies where the audience cries. Nor do I enjoy silly movies with men dressing up like women. Just not my thing.

On the other hand, I think a lot of lessons for martial artists can be learned through some of these good action films. Although there aren’t many really good films today… the same way I can’t stand martial arts in a dress, I hate to see mediocre film-making dressed up in CGI and flash. I like a good movie with well thought-out scripts, an interesting plot that makes sense, and complete characters that have consistency. When I say “complete”, I am referring to a character in a film who does everything that is consistent with who he is supposed to be–and the film completely shows who and what he is. When a character in a film is complete–and everything he says is consistent with who he is in the film–you will be able to learn all about this character and what makes him tick, blah blah blah.

So, in modern film, the Tough Guy is dead.

And don’t hand me no crap about The Rock, Vin Diesel, Brad Pitt, etc. What they have today are pretty boys with muscles, and that ain’t no tough guy. The closest we have today to a tough guy would be a Chuck Norris (but he can’t act! and ass-kicking isn’t the point) or Hugh Jackman (takes too many non-tough guy roles). But Clint Eastwood? True tough guy. What makes him so great is that Eastwood created a character and this character shows up in all of his films. From Dirty Harry to Private Kelley to whatever that guy’s name was in “Gran Torino”. Man. Even at 80s years old, he looked like he could kick someone’s ass.

Wait, didn’t thekuntawman just say “ass kicking” had nothing to do with it?

Yes, I did. See, ass kicking is a by product of the tough guy. He doesn’t have to know how to kick someone’s ass; he just needs to be able to do it. It’s not technique. It’s ability. The tough guy? He keeps fighting until the bad guy says “uncle” and forks over his milk money. The pretty boy with muscles (or martial arts skills) won’t get the milk money because he’s tough–he gets it because he knows how to apply an arm bar or spin hook kick or something. The tough guy may not win all the fights. He just looks like he will. The pretty boy with muscles? Well, even beer-drinking, weed-smoking, mall-lingering, saggy pants wearing thugs look at him and think, “I can take him.”

And what happens when pretty boys with muscles encounter a bigger, stronger opponent? He takes BJJ. Or gets the script writer to bring in a Muay Thai teacher (like Jean Claudia Van Dame did in “Kickboxer”) so he can learn the secret technique to win the fight. And tough guys? They don’t give a darn what you know or how big you are; they fight you anyway, and find a way to bring home the turkey bacon.

Okay, maybe the script writers had something to do with it.

But the tough guy had something that pretty-boy-with-muscles doesn’t have, and that’s courage. He sees that the odds are against him, and he does it anyway. While pretty-boys-with-muscles reach into their bag o’tricks to pull out the secret weapon, or they luck up with the bad guy losing out because of his bad character, or something like that. The Tough Guy brings only what he has to the table–himself and his toughness–and finds a way to force a win.

The pretty boy finds a reason to take off his shirt at least 4 times in a movie. The tough guy just looks tough in his T-shirt–the one with the gravy stain on it. Pretty boy attends Pilates classes and body sculpts and has a six-pack. Tough guy doesn’t give a darn that he doesn’t have a whole lotta definition, but he’s gonna rock what the creator gave him anyway. Pretty boy gets 3 or 4 girls over the course of the movie. Tough guy pushes pretty women out of the way to find the bad guy. Then he returns at the end of the movie to get the girl. Pretty boys have to come up with corny one-liners to sound tough when in front of the bad buys. Tough guy also has one-liners, but they are memorable:  “I know what you’re thinking, punk. Did he fire 6 shots? Or was it only 5? Well to be totally honest with you, punk, in all this excitement I kinda lost count myself. But this is a 44 Magnum. It’ll blow your head clean off. You gotta ask yourself a question. Do I feel lucky today? Well, do you, punk?”

Yeah, 98-pound weakling comedians will repeat “I’ll be back” and “I want to learn Muay Thai!” But no one–NO ONE–can use Dirty Harry’s line but him.

My point of all this is that the tough guys of yesterday–Clint Eastwood, Rocky, Charles Bronson, John Wayne–were not perfect men. They were beatable. They had a little stomach fat. They had receding hairlines. And they didn’t know a buncha martial arts styles. But they were strong physically and psychologically. Their feelings didn’t get hurt because someone thought they could whip you. They didn’t jump on the karate bandwagon when it got popular so they could wave with the wind. They didn’t spend hours in the gym trying to come up with bodies to qualify them for a spead in Playgirl magazine. They didn’t even damage their souls by playing characters that fornicated with a ton of women to prove their “manhood”. They were just themselves:  tough men who had morals, who did the right thing, who weren’t afraid to step forward even when they were the underdog. Well, a true tough guy never really IS the underdog, is he? Even when he is outgunned, out muscled, out karate styled… we always have faith that his toughness will pull him through. He has faith in himself, so he isn’t chasing new skills and weapons to keep up with the times. I mean, can you imagine Dirty Harry doing Krav Maga because LEOs around the world do it? Hell, no. He’s Dirty Harry, dammit. Even in his advanced age, like in “Gran Torino”, Dirty Harry prevails. Thanks to his courage and toughness.

You martial artists are mostly pretty boys with muscles. Wait, lot’s of you aren’t all that damned cute. But you try too hard to keep up with the times and do what the guy next door is doing, instead of just exceling at what you already do, and doing that better than what the enemy is at his craft. Be indomitable because YOU are indomitable–not because you learned a little of this and a little of that. Don’t worry that you’re tummy is getting a little rounder and you’re starting to look 50… my friend, you ARE 50. Be tough anyway. Hell, Clint Eastwood kept his toughness at 80. Why can’t you?

Thanks for visiting my blog. And for your entertainment, here’s a clip for you… I swear, they just don’t make movies like they use to!