If you are ever really bored, go onto a martial arts forum (particularly one with multiple styles represented) and ask how to defend against a simple sucker punch. Oh, and don’t forget to grab some popcorn; there is going to be quite an entertaining show to watch! You see, we martial artists have the gift of creativity and the curse of pride. If someone shows us a technique, we immediately start pulling it apart in our heads to see if we can make it more efficient, or cooler, or faster, or… you get the idea. Also, if the technique differs significantly from the way we were taught, we have the immediate urge to try to find the flaw that makes our techniques better than the one being shown.
To be fair, for many martial artists, these attitudes and thought processes are not malicious. As a group, martial artist like to absorb as much of the best information as possible and to teach others the best way we know how. However, if you put a bunch of us in a room and told us to defend against an over hand right punch, the next hour of our time would be taken up by working through all of the tiny variations in position, timing, execution, style, and purpose of the defense. All fine, well, and good for a group of advanced martial artists, but something like that can be a real turn off for a junior student. The fact is, we could all use the advice of some newer systems like S.P.E.A.R. Keep it simple.
In reality, the most common attacks in human violence have always been the same. No matter how you slice the pie, the effective responses to those attacks have the same four key elements*: AVOID the attack if possible, PROTECT yourself from damage, DEFEND yourself with vigor, and ESCAPE to a place of safety. These principles hold equally true in sport and self-defense. Our job as martial artists is to learn how to best apply the techniques we have acquired over time to whatever situation we may find ourselves in. If we are instructors, it is our job to teach these principles to our students and then give them the necessary basic tools to effect each step. Pressure point theory and complicated small joint manipulations are great fun to learn, and can even be used effectively by experienced martial artists with thousands of hours of training. However, trying to make a group of mo’s at your local church understand those theories and apply them effectively in the space of a weekend self-defense seminar is almost impossible. However, you can teach them how to take natural skills and put them to use for self-defense.
Situational anticipation is a natural skill that we all learn at an early age. A cup of water at the edge of an unstable table is probably going to spill. We can teach people to see the “wobbly tables” around them that signify volatile situations. They can then choose to avoid those situations. Raising your hands to catch an object flying at your face is a natural reaction. We can teach them to refine that reaction slightly into an effective block. It is normal to be incensed and angry when someone wrongs us. We can teach people how to channel that emotion into a functional, vigorous response that surprises and repels their attacker. It is natural to flee from danger. We can teach people to see opportunities for escape and show them how to find safety quickly.
No matter what your style, one thing is certain, people need to understand the principles of action in order to apply the techniques you teach. Take some time to evaluate how you practice your art. Is it based on principle or technique? Guaranteed, most of the techniques you use today were once based on one or more of the four principles stated earlier: avoid, protect, defend, and escape. Don’t believe me? Check out the works of Sun Tsu and Miyamoto Musashi or more recent legends like Fumio Demura or Bruce Lee. Many different words, but in the end, the principles are the same.
*A case can be made for only three principles here, but I find that it is easier to explain with four.