The topic of hand to hand fighting has come up recently and while my thoughts are already recorded for posterity somewhere in the archives it is a good time to revisit the topic.
Everyone needs to be competent at hand to hand fighting in order to prevent people from beating the hell out of you and to be able to beat the hell out of people if you need to. “Well I carry a gun” doesn’t get you off. In reality you can’t keep every person 30 feet away and live a normal life. Threats can appear quickly and at close range. Even if you are carrying if an aggressive panhandler or strong arm robber is 3 feet away you are in a hand to hand fight.
Furthermore as a dude, and particularly a reasonably healthy one you are going to have a hard time justifying lethal force simply because someone gets too close or grabs you or whatever. If you shoot somebody because they push you or even try to start a fight you will go to jail. Sorry but it is true. (Case in point George Zimmerman) Gals have an easier time here.
One of the stupidest things I have ever heard is “I will fight dirty, breaking fingers and kicking groins” as an excuse to not actually learn to fight. Idiots use that as an excuse (maybe even to their selves) for not actually learning to fight. This is not a viable plan. The reason it is a stupid idea is that in real fights that sort of behavior is pretty much a given so it really isn’t an advantage. A guy who can kick box/ box/ do jui jitsu or whatever and is willing to kick groins and break fingers will win over a less skilled fighter whose only chance is a couple cheap tricks every time.
If I need to make a hard sell of these points just stop reading this post now. Your situational awareness is so great a threat couldn’t possibly get within 10 meters of you and or you are such a finger breaker and groins kicker that the same dirty moves everybody tries will always work for you. I wish you the best of luck.
So you need to learn how to fight. I am not going to say that formal instruction is absolutely necessary. Big strong guys with some “experience” can do quite well unless they meet a big strong guy who can strike or wrestle or a decent sized guy who is good at striking or wrestling. In all seriousness just about everyone benefits from formal instruction as the self taught tend to have some real bad habits that a skilled fighter can take advantage of.
To be a competent well rounded fighter you need to be able to strike and grapple both standing and on the ground. You’ve got to have at least some skills in both to not have huge vulnerabilities. Ideally you will get good at both but if you are hardcore in one you need to at least be able to survive in the other. It doesn’t matter if you are a wrestling/ judo/ jui jitsu fighter if you get the hell beat out of you before you can get your hands on somebody. If you are a competitive kick boxer or boxer at least learn enough grappling to keep folks from taking you down or throwing you and to get back up if it does go to the ground.
There are so many different styles out there. I don’t want to get bogged down going over each one or offend people by suggesting that the style they spent years learning sucks so instead I will talk about a few commonality of effective styles for contemporary self defense. The first is that they focus on realistic techniques for realistic scenarios. Styles that focus on implausible scenarios like jumping spinning high kicks may be fun but can have questionable utility.
Next effective styles practice at close to full speed/ intensity trying to harm people who are trying to harm you. Call it sparing or fighting or whatever. Be very caution with styles that are so deadly you can’t actually spar but instead only practice slowly or with cooperative partners. It is one thing to say it works but it is difficult if not impossible to figure out the kinks, work through issues and develop confidence and muscle memory in a technique without trying it against an uncooperative person who wants to hurt you.
Lastly effective styles tend to compete against other styles in as realistic of competition as possible against other styles. This is probably the biggest and easiest single test of if a style is actually effective or not. Points based sparing with rules that emphasize high kicks and jousting back fists which barely make contact are a nice sport and all but have little to no relationship with actual fighting. For example if I was in a points sparing match with a nimble 105 pound 13 year old kid they would probably win by a series of very pretty but not damaging glancing strikes. However they would last about 7 seconds in an alley. To phrase it another way it doesn’t matter if you are the toughest and most skilled guy in your style if an average redneck in a bar can wipe the floor with you. Think full contact kickboxing and mixed martial arts style competition.
It is worth noting that early on in Ultimate Fighting we had some very good case studies for this before everybody started training in the incredibly effective modern hybrid style we now call MMA. Quite a few black belts in Taekwondo, various styles of Karate (though notably Kempo Karate fared well), kung fu and musho do quai chi got the heck beaten out of them by wrestlers and good old boy golden gloves type boxers.
Now we will talk about physical fitness as it relates to hand to hand fighting. In real fights size and strength (I say size and strength because they are generally related) are an advantage. Of course skill matters more but can only overcome so much. A truly skilled fighter can take amateurs way out of his weight class. Oscar De La Hoya could wipe the floor with a lot of tough 225 pounders. That being said he wouldn’t last long against Lenox Lewis or Tito Ortiz.
Strength lets you hit harder, execute techniques more effectively against an active opponent and resist their techniques more effectively. I am talking about the kind of raw strength that you get from lots and lots of heavy labor (like professional construction or masonry or the like, not doing normal chores on a modern hobby farm which consists of moving a few hay bales and a few buckets of feed a day) or serious time at the weight pile doing big compound movements like bench press, squat, dead lift and power cleans. Strength really helps here. Also if you build enough size and strength it can become a pretty big deterrent and save you trouble.
[Though there is a sort of “I want to fight the biggest guy here” phenomena. For some reason below average sized guys try to fight the biggest dude in the bar or party, often without any provocation. I saw a 6’3” 270 pound mountain of muscle that played college football get into three of these fights in one night for no reason. These little guys were just walking up and punching him in the face. They all ended very quickly and decisively.
I don’t for the life of me understand this. It seems like about the stupidest thing ever to me. It is one thing if circumstances are what they are and you have to fight some huge guy but going out of your way and choosing to do so is just really stupid. More interestingly it is not really strong or skilled 150 pound guys either but random shmoes. I really want to know what these guys are thinking but after they show their selves I haven’t see one in the condition to talk.
Remember; never fight somebody hand to hand who has such a size/ strength advantage that they could go all Lenny on you. +Two extra special bonus points if you get the reference. Seriously if they can play King Kong smash all over then either make friends, stay away, stab them or shoot them. ]
This is incidentally a pretty good litmus test for how realistic/ practical a martial art is. To paraphrase our new friend Mr Mosby “no martial art is going to let a blind 98 pound wheel chair bound grandma beat up a 230 pound power lifting steroid using ex convict” That sort of stuff just doesn’t work in real life. If somebody tries to tell you otherwise either they are knowingly lying or they are an idiot. In either case take your time and money elsewhere.
Conditioning is important for a lot of things but in my personal experience its role in real life H2H fights outside of an organized competitive setting is minimal. I have never personally seen or been in a fight (again outside of a competitive setting) that lasted long enough for conditioning to be a real issue. Of course this does assume that you are an average reasonably healthy person who can walk a few blocks without getting winded. Organized settings are different because both people know they are going to be in a fight, are ready and are theoretically a pretty even match. All these factors make for much longer fights.
So in closing I recommend that you invest some time to learn how to defend yourself and put the time in at the weight pile to build the muscle to be able to apply those skills in real life.