Training for the Street vs. the Ring

I recently reconnected with an old friend from the DC area who is planning to begin teaching the martial arts soon. We had not seen each other since the late 90s and have been catching up with each other, in between classes and the time difference. A few weeks ago, we were discussing what I was doing before coming to California and we ended up talking about how my school transitioned from an FMA school that fought in point tournaments to one that did full contact, to Muay Thai and MMA, then my present focus–the traditional martial art. He said something that offended me slightly, but it inspired this article:

“I remembered you as a serious martial artist, but then everyone said you got so much into sport fighting. I’m glad you returned to  the traditional arts…”

As if one couldn’t be a traditional fighter and still fight in the ring.

I agree, that many teachers go so deep into the tournament style of fighting they lose focus on real combat, but my question is, what is REAL combat? What are “traditional” martial arts? Martial arts without rules? Question, have you ever fought someone without rules? I seriously doubt many readers here have ever fought without rules. That would be a life-or-death fight. Even those masters you love to tell stories about had some type of rules in those “death matches”. If any Eskrimada master told you he fought a real death match, I’d say that master lied to you. The Philippines was not the Old West, devoid of law and order. I know it sells books and videos, but it simply isn’t true.

Here is my point, all fighters need some type of fighting experience. the more fighting experience they get while learning and developing the art, the better prepared and more knowledgeable they will be in order to teach someone else to fight. None of us who teach Eskrima have ever really killed someone with our sticks and knives. I’ve met quite a few Eskrimadors who claim to have had real live experience with their weapons, and I have yet to meet a man who makes this claim who will fight a match with me. Yes, we all spar with our weapons, but no halfway intelligent martial artist will be stupid enough to engage in the criminal act of pulling out a real blade and testing his skill via mutual combat with another Eskrimador. I am not referring to a real self-defense situation–I have done this myself. But all matches–with my students, with another teacher, with challenges I have accepted or issued–all had rules. I won’t disrespect you by asking to be so stupid to believe that I have done anything more.

In order for the martial artist to properly learn the art he has been taught, he must have the experience of using this skills with another combatant. Not a partner. Not a classmate. An opponent. It’s the only way he will be able to fully understand his martial art. And ring fighting is the safest way to find a multitude of opponents and gain a lifetime of experience. Once a fighter has had so many fights that he cannot remember how many opponents he has had, he cannot remember how many wins versus losses he experienced, he has had more matches with no winner/loser declared than he can remember–he has had “enough”. When a martial artist is engaging in refereed matches with rules, he is doing what is traditional in the martial arts: He is finding opponents to test his art on, and is discovering all those fine points that his teacher could never teach him, and he would never discover on his own. No master has arrived to the true level of mastery without it. One could spend a lifetime teaching and innovating to his imagination’s limits, but without these ever-so-important matches, he is no Master of fighting.

I would like to share with you the basic differences between training for the ring and training for the street. They are vastly different, and so I consider them distinct, but equally important, stages of development in the martial arts student’s education.

  1. When training for the ring, stamina is extremely important. We want to be prepared for a lengthy, multi-round fight. When training for the street, stamina is important as well–but a different type of stamina. We are not preparing for a long fight, however, you will train to exert yourself 100% of speed, power and intensity for the duration of your altercation.
  2. For the ring, you will focus a lot of calisthenics on the midsection, in order to take the body punch and kicks to the body. On the street, you are unlikely to be hit in the body (although it is a good idea to use body shots. You will likely destroy an opponent without risking killing your opponent by hitting him in the head). Street fighters must perform a lot of pushups and dips, to develop punching muscles.
  3. Street fighters focus on power, point and full contact fighters focus on speed and timing. Speed and timing are good for the street as well, but in the ring they are extra vital. You must be able to out point your opponent in the event you cannot knock him out.
  4. Ring fighters fight from a further distance than streetfighters. Most likely when fighting for self defense, your opponent is not experienced and will not utilize position, distance and faking. In the ring, the fight is more of a chess match. Footwork is more relevant in the ring because you have the advantage of the clock.
  5. Streetfighters must learn to improvise with using walls, tables and objects to their advantage. Ring fighters enter with only themselves. The most a fighter may use for his advantage are the ropes of a ring (if he fights in a ring)
  6. Streetfighters must be aware of additional opponents and hidden weapons (self explanatory). Ring fighters do not.
  7. Streetfighters should work on attack combinations of 4 or more strikes, and be able to utilize them to end their fights. The ring fighter must fight in short bursts, between 2 and 5 strikes and kicks.
  8. Ring fighters spend at least 50% of their time on defense. Streetfighter training should be attack-oriented. (This is the #1 reason I say that Modern Eskrima is out of touch with reality for Street Self Defense!)

If I keep going, I will reveal the secret of Mustafa Gatdula’s FMA. Take this information and absorb it. And don’t shy away from the ring. You will benefit greatly if you learn it’s lessons.  If you like this article (or if you *don’t* like it), please share! And you may also enjoy my books as well. Take a look at my “Offerings” page for more information! Thanks for visiting my blog.