Thoughts on Combat: The Fighter’s Defense Systems

This winter’s Shinergy[battle] made me think about the role of the individual defensive system we practice in training and how each of them has its place in combat. Although definitions on the subject may (and surely will) vary, a defensive system, for me, is pretty much everything that keeps you from being (severely) hurt/damaged by an attack. So, without further ado, let’s take a quick look at each of those systems:

  1. Evasion and soft blocking: From my point of view, it’s always best to simply not be where the opponent strikes or kicks. Now that might seem like a no-brainer at first, but actually, most intelligent fighting systems make quite a lot of fuzz on that matter. Now on the one hand, you have western boxing, where a basic bob and weave is amongst the first things you learn. On the other hand, consider Wing Tsun (or early forms of JKD, for that matter), where most if not all blocks aim at redirecting the attackers force and ultimately using it against him. I won’t bother elaborating on the theory behind what we call soft blocking here – that’s just too much for now. Suffice to say that taking away a stable point of resistance (e.g., your head, a hard block, etc.) will usually go a long way in breaking the attackers balance, along with opening up a window of opportunity for retaliation from your side. Of course, against a skilled striker, your chances of never being hit are practically zero. So, if you realize you just can’t get out of harm – whether this situation is due to bad timing, distance control, or whatever else mistake on your side –, this brings you to your first fail-safe-system, which is presented in the next point.
  2. Hard blocking: Taking a roundhouse kick to the upper arm or glove definitely beats getting kicked in the head. This ain’t rocket science. Depending on your adversaries skill and power, absorbing a strike with a less vulnerable part of your body will still bruise you, but at least it won’t take you out of the game. Keep in mind, though, that this is where injuries happen. You can win a couple of fights with toughness alone, especially against less experienced opponents. Still, after a while, all those hard shots will have accommodated and your body won’t be able to take any more punishment. I’m not talking about a single fight here – over the years, every strike you’re forced to absorb will at one point or another come back and haunt you. Long term, this might lead to an unpleasant end of your fighting career. Short time, those bruised shins, cracked ribs and wasted elbows will keep you from training. You don’t get better by not training. All that being said, sometimes damage reduction is the best you can do and your arms or shins are all that’s between you and an incoming strike. As fighters, we all know that sometimes, not even a hard block is possible. Sometimes, you’re just too late. You get hit.
  3. Rolling with a punch: In the above mentioned case (i.e, you get hit), it’s seldom a good idea to get all tense and try to resist the strike’s impact. Rather, it pays off to roll with the punch. Imagine two cars that collide in an accident. Depending on their relative speeds, the damage will be reduced or amplified. Although that analogy is admittedly an over-simplification of the real deal, it will do for the moment. If you think about it, it makes sense to practice some body deformations and other means of reducing the damage you sustain from strikes that connect. It only takes so much directed force to knock someone out –  if you get hit and fail to reduce the impulse below a certain threshold, it’s lights out and game over. Just in case you can’t make anything from the car analogy, the following list quickly outlines the three distinct scenarios that can arise in a car accident:
    1. Both cars are driving in the same direction, at different speeds. Obviously, the resulting damage will be limited by the absolute speed difference between the two cars.
    2. One of the cars stands still while the other one drives at a given speed. This time, the resulting damage is determined by the moving car’s speed.
    3. Both cars are driving in opposite directions when they collide (i.e., they collide frontally). Forces will add up, the results are potentially disastrous.

Here’s a short video demonstrating how Andy properly used each of the above mentioned defense systems in his fight against Elias.


You might have noted that I haven’t listed any counters. That’s because a counter, for me, is somewhat fuzzy – at the same time, it’s both of an offensive and a defensive maneuver. At least, that holds true for direct counters. Things are easier with indirect counters, as they’re simply a sequential combination of a defensive action and some follow-up strikes. Hence, the above mentioned systems fully cover the indirect counter, at least the defensive part.
Next time you practice with a partner, better make sure to reinforce all those defensive systems so that, when the time comes, you’re not caught off-guard.
So long,

take care

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