Learn to Take a Hit

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In many martial arts, great time and effort is spent on body conditioning. Fighters in arts like Kyokushin condition their shins and sometimes forearms by rapping on them with bundles of chopsticks. They condition their legs by kicking each other, and learn to absorb body shots similarly by practicing taking punches and kicks.

These practitioners do not train to take hits instead of learning how to properly defend. It is usually better to avoid getting hit in the first place, but a wise student learns to accept that you will not always be fast enough to block something.

Fighters, especially full contact fighters (knockdown, MMA, etc) end up taking a lot of abuse during their fighting careers. A top level tournament fighter might have to fight 5 or more fights over a day or two in order to win his tournament. UFC fights are relatively long fights as well, with many long rounds. A great level of physical conditioning is required to be competitive.

What about those of us who don’t compete, but instead try to prepare for the fight that they hope never comes?

Should the student who prepares only for self-defense (and not competition) practice this way?

On the surface, no…

If you do not compete as a fighter, you aren’t likely to experience a long fight. Most self-defense encounters tend to be very violent, intense events but are also relatively short. I would not expect to be fighting for the 15 minutes or more that a professional MMA fight might take.

The average self-defense student is also unlikely to fight sequentially for days. He might fight multiple attackers, but not individually spread out over the course of a few hours.

Fighters also have other reasons to worry about conditioning. The purpose of most body conditioning is not necessarily to mitigate damage. Being hit can help build your body up and make it stronger against being hit in the future, but most conditioning helps serve to deaden nerves and make you impervious to the mental disruption that can come with being hit.

In any life or death encounter on the street, adrenaline will be a huge factor. You probably won’t feel most of the shots you take anyway. The first time I fought in a tournament in my youth I didn’t feel a single shot I took until about 30 minutes after the fight, at which point I couldn’t bend my leg and walking was… difficult. Conditioning has little effect on that first encounter.

The next time I fought, the first shot I took went right through me and I quickly realized something was different. Fighters condition because they won’t have the huge benefit of adrenaline at every fight. If you are jumped on the street, adrenaline is one advantage you can probably count on.

How to take a hit

If I’m too slow to get out of the way, I can position my body to mitigate the hit that I do take. Practicing getting hit means that when you are unable to block, you can at least take the hit on your terms. Generally this involves turning your body into the blow to brace yourself for the hit.

Face it, in a street fight you are going to get hit. If that is the case, shouldn’t we learn how to take the hit and not fold over like a cheap suit? Adrenaline can help you with pain and make you stronger, but it won’t keep the wind from getting knocked out of you. Learning how to properly exhale when being hit can.

While conditioning in itself might not make a huge difference, practicing how to get hit can. Your time is well spent learning how to properly take a punch or a kick. While conditioning can be useful as part of your routine, learning the best way to take a hit will give you much more bang for your buck.

Do you practice how to get hit?

Beginning Training Series: Hand to Hand and Traditional Martial Arts

Today I will be discussing fighting skills, specifically unarmed combat and traditional martial arts as part of my series on beginning training.

Fighting skills should be a major component of any self-defense training regimen. In order to truly be prepared for a violent confrontation, you need to be able to handle yourself with and without a weapon. We will discuss in the next post about how weapons fit into the picture, but today we are going to cover hand to hand fighting skills.

Striking or Grappling

When you break down all major martial arts systems that are intended for hand to hand combat, you essentially get two categories: striking and grappling. Some systems cross over that line more than others, but these are really the only two methods of empty-handed fighting.

Striking arts like Boxing, Karate, Taekwondo, and Muay Thai for example focus on using punches, kicks, and other strikes in order inflict damage to one’s opponent. The advantage to learning a striking art is being able to fight without becoming entangled with your opponent. On the street becoming entangled, especially on the ground, should be avoided whenever possible. Having one or both hands free improves your chances when fighting multiple adversaries. Unfortunately many real fights have a tendency to go to the ground.

Grappling arts like Jujitsu, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Judo, and Wrestling focus on fighting an opponent primarily without the use of strikes. There is an advantage to learning how to grapple. If you end up in a fight, you are likely to find yourself in a scenario where grappling may be needed. Many street fights go to the ground, a bad place to be if your opponent has friends. Knowing how to grapple is your best bet to get out of these scenarios.

Think of it this way: if your only experience is with striking, you won’t know how to handle yourself if you get stuck in a grappling situation. On the other hand, if your only experience is with grappling, you are more likely to end up grappling (the very situation you should be trying to avoid).

Which should you learn? I recommend trying to practice both. If time only allows you to practice one, find a way to spend some time cross training the other. Every little bit helps in your efforts to be prepared to defend yourself.

Traditional Martial Arts

As time goes on, the “McDojo” fad has been driving people away from studying traditional martial arts. These dojos tend to overcharge and under-train, and they give many of the martial systems a bad name. Despite this, I would still consider traditional martial arts a valuable thing to study, and something you should seriously consider learning – if a decent instructor is available to you. If you find yourself looking for a school, check out my post about finding a good dojo.

When choosing a system, note that traditional martial arts have value that you tend to miss out on when studying the non-traditional systems. Many of the traditional systems put emphasis on training the basics and practicing kata (also known as forms). My experience is that this emphasis creates a well-rounded student. I have found that my time training in Kyokushin has made much of my non-traditional learning, and even my firearms training much simpler. In these traditional systems, you learn more than just how to punch and kick, but how to use the whole body in order to get the best economy of motion.

Finding a good martial arts school should be high on your priority list if you wish to improve your capacity for self-defense. Almost any system will do as long as the instructor is good. Having some formal martial education will significantly improve your skills and pave the way for learning new ones.

Have questions or advice about hand to hand martial arts? Post them in the comments!

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