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.

Author: thekuntawman

full time martial arts teacher, full time martial arts philosopher, and full time martial arts critic

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