Learn to Fight by Fighting *Back*

A week ago I was talking to a gentleman who is returning to martial arts training after about 20 years of a layoff. From what he tells me, the school he belonged to in the early 90s was a good one. While still commercial (I believe the teacher’s name was Jack Corey/Curry, cannot recall the man’s name I had met), his teacher had a healthy balance of children and adults–fluffy as well as killer training.

Let me break to give you some advice. We teachers encounter former martial artists and self-claiming experts all the time. I have a technique I use when talking to someone which helps me gauge who I am speaking to. Some of you call it the “BS detector”. My BS detector has 2 catalysts:  Lineage and Technique. When having a conversation, you can quickly find out the caliber of martial artist you are in front of (or gain a sense of what kind of art he was learning) by asking about his lineage, and then engaging him in a conversation about technique. Without spending too much time on it, what your fellow discursist says will give you the scoop on whether this guy is just flapping his lips or whether or not he knows what he knows. Saves time.

So he began in Korean martial arts, and in that school he gained plenty of sparring experience. In addition, and most importantly, he learned from his teacher the importance of drilling and training. Not “drilling” like many of you might think:  as a younger man, he would execute hundreds of repetitions of strikes, punches, kicks, blocks and combinations per session. He is now in one of those “fluffy” hybrid schools, but he still retained the hard-work ethic of his teacher 20 years ago. I like this guy.

In his former school, he fought against others with backgrounds in Karate and Tae Kwon Do, who punched like Karate and TKD people. In his new school, his classmates use semi-boxing techniques and Wing Chun. I can imagine this would be a very frustrating adjustment. We talked about working with punch combinations, spending more time sparring to develop the sixth sense for close-range/in-fighting, and other tips. But he mentioned that his specialty years ago was in counter-fighting, and how it simply doesn’t work against these guys.

I disagree.

First, I’d like to say that any fighting style can work against any style. Fighting is not an exact science, where boxing beats grappling, and kickers beat boxers, etc. While some techniques may be better suited to counter other techniques, there are so many variables to determine what will work vs what won’t work that it would be impossible to make such a judgment without actually slugging it out. And even when you resolve an argument that way, it only proved that fighter A can beat fighter B with that technique. Someone else using the same technique may have more or less success, depending on his attributes and abilities.

So, I gave the gentleman some basic, generic advice, and I hope you can draw some benefit out of the same tips. I will only list a few.

Tips for Counter Fighting

  • First, counter fighting as a strategy is not necessarily “waiting for an attack”. I find this misconception to be the norm for FMA fighters, as many of our styles teach the counter as the primary form of learning to fight. Think about it. When you ask an Eskrimador to show you something, what is the first thing he says? “Feed me a number X”. Basically, he has not learned to attack, so in order to apply his art, he needs you to attack him first. That’s why–
  • Counter-fighting is also called Counter-attacking. I prefer to use the term “counter-attack” over “defense”. We are not just trying to stop an opponent–we want to BEAT him. You can’t beat a man with blocks, and you can’t beat him moving defensively. Therefore
  • Rather than sit and wait, throw attacks at your opponent to get him to block, move and most importantly—> Attack. You get your opponent to attack by attacking him. Then, when he attacks you on your command (remember you knew he would attack because he’s actually attacking you back), counter that. Where I come from, this is called
  • “Controlling the fight”. If you don’t feel like fighting, move around. When you’re ready to attack, stop moving and counter him as he chases you, or attack him to get him to attack you back. This really is a “chicken-before-the-egg” strategy. Who is actually countering whom? Good questions. Here’s the answer:  Whom cares? Really!
  • The idea is that opponents are most vulnerable when attacking, and the counter attacker is actually determining when the two combatants will engage. He seizes the opportunity to attack by doing it while the opponent is busy attacking. It is very hard to throw a block while punching or kicking when you didn’t know an attack would be coming.
  • I consider blocking and evasive movements performed without an accompanying counter to be a waste of time. Basically, your “shuffle-back, catch, return jab” could have ended the fight simply by changing it to “shuffle-forward, catch AND return jab” all in one motion. Don’t miss the opportunity to end the fight simply because you were selfishly trying to protect that pretty face of yours. Take the punch on your forehead and make him eat a fist before his jab/cross/kick has had an opportunity to retract.
  • Remember this very important rule of thumb, if nothing else. Matter of fact, I’ll highlight it:

There are three best times to hit an opponent:

1. While he is punching

2. At the moment he completes the punch

3. Immediately after the completion of the punch (while retracting)

Each of these points has a set of techniques that fits the point. And the timing must be perfect. So in countering, you don’t want to learn timing, you want to learn perfect timing. A fraction of a second off from that moment, and you will miss your mark.

Back to the man I had met, we will have to meet in person for me to show him how to improve his success in sparring with those guys. But the above advice will help him utilize his preference to counter attacks instead of initiating them.

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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