Thoughts on Combat – Building a solid attack

At first, everyone’s interested in defensive stuff, blocks, counters, evasion and the like. It’s understandable, really, as many people aren’t so much looking for competitive combat sports but rather wish to learn an effective form of self-defense. That’s ok – in fact, being able to take care of yourself, no matter what, is one of the biggest benefits the martial arts can offer.

Still, a strong defense ain’t enough. That’s for two reasons:

  • For one, at some point you’ve got to finish the fight. From a combat sport perspective, this one’s a no brainer, so let’s examine a different scenarion. This might not apply to true self-defense situations so much – after all, self defense is all about finishing the fight with your first counter. Still, while I do not condone violence, I believe that there are situations where striking first and decisively can be the best form of de-escalation and violence prevention. An unconscious attacker can cause no more harm, neither to you, nor to any bystanders. Additionally, a clean shot can prevent a brutal, uncontrolled battle. I believe it was Geoff Thompson who wrote in a book that many times, he knocked people out to spare them severe injury. Even if you strongly object to this concept – which you’re obviously free to do – you’ll still have to acknowledge my second point.
  • Every defense can only be as good as the attack it is tested against. Compare this to weightlifting: a muscle can only grow stronger when it’s challenged. When you’re deadlifting 500+ pounds, you probably won’t get much out of curling a pink 2 pound dumbbell. No, you’ll have to go and pull heavy weights, somewhere around your 1RM. It’s the same with fighting skill, really: if you never test your defensive skill against a proper attack, you’ll never get a chance to hone and sharpen that skill. Worse yet, if all your training partners are inferior offensive fighters, you’ll quickly get a feeling of safety, as no one’s able to hit you in sparring anyways. The problem is that most likely, the crazed guy in the ring or in the street who’s trying to take your head off probably ain’t from your dojo – and if he possesses the kind of offensive skill you’Ve never encountered in your training so far, you’re in trouble.

So, the question at hand is: what makes for a good attack? Then again, this one’s a simple one. A good attack actually connects (duh), makes an impression upon the opponent and doesn’t get you in trouble (i.e., it doesn’t put you in a position where you can easily be hurt). So far, so good. Now this post aims at explaining the key concepts we teach in Shinergy classes to help our fighters get better offensively. Namely, I’ll be covering the topics of non-telegraphic striking, obfuscation and broken rhythm.

Non-telegraphic striking
For Bruce Lee, this one was huge. No point in putting tons of power behind your strike if you give it away early, allow the opponent to react, and ultimately get countered. Sounds plausible. Still, before taking a closer look at the mechanics of non-telegraphic striking, let’s first put that into a proper context. First off, if your primary goal is to make your strike connect, then you have to judge success by that measure. Taking this thought a step further, it is fair to state that a telegraphic punch that hits the target is better than a non-telegraphic one that is slow and misses. Also, if both strikes connect (both the telegraphic one and the non-telegraphic one), then the harder punch is the better punch. Now there are situations when the opponent has no way of evading, let alone countering, an incoming strike – this is mostly a question of timing and rhythm, which we’ll cover later. In such a scenario, winding up for a strike can actually make sense. Of course, recognizing those moments takes practice and experience, so it goes without saying that most of the time, non-telegraphic striking is the way to go. That being said, certain strikes lend themselves better to non-telegraphic striking than others. Consider the cross. For an optimal force transfer, the kinetic chain starts at the ball of your rear foot, goes over your calves, thighs, hips, trunk, shoulders over elbow before it finally reaches the hand and subsequently, the target. In other words, this means that you’re not leading with your hand (hence, Bruce’s fencing analogy – which was based mostly on Aldi’s writings – doesn’t hold true here). This applies to most power punches. On the other hand, while you can throw power jabs, the jab’s primary purpose is not to score a knockout but rather to set up your heavy weapons. Hence throwing stuff like jabs, backfists, etc. in a non-telegraphic way aids them in their purpose (which is, to connect and set up other punches) rather than hindering it (e.g., the reversal of the kinetic chain – beginning from the fist – can take impact out of power punches). Again, it shows that nothing – not even non-telegraphic striking – can be put under a dogma. As always, the short answer is „it depends“.

’nuff said, let’s take a look at how we drill non-telegraphic striking. For punches, my go-to drill is as simple as they get: one partner throws jabs and/or crosses at a focus mitt, while the pad-holder tries to pull the pad away as fast as possible as soon as he/she sees the attack. For advanced students, my command is to strike as slowly as possible. While this sounds absurd in the first moment, it actually promotes technical finesse and muscle relaxation rather than pure speed (which can lead to success even if the punch is highly telegraphed). Kicks, on the other hand, are much more telegraphic in nature (as more mass has to be moved), so I rather refrain from having my students miss the target at very high speeds. The reward is just not worth the risk, especially since non-telegraphic movement is just one out of three basic tools at our disposal. Still, when it comes to practicing kicks in this way, I have them practice kicks with gliding steps, just as those employed by pointfighters. An argument can be made about the decreased power that comes from this type of movement, but if it was good enough for [Bill „Superfoot“ Wallace], it’s probably good enough for everyone.

A punch that is thrown from a still posture is more easily visible than one that is disguised by constant body movement. This simple idea leads to the concept of obfuscation. Instead of being stationary, our fighters are constantly on the move, feinting, bobbing and weaving like it’s their job. I adopted one of [Samir Seif]’s pad drills for this one. Then, as a next step, it’s the athletes job to take the whole thing from theory to practice during sparring. Check out the video below for Samir’s instruction. This will also teach proper body alignment to as to wind up for a strike in an efficient manner. My [Pressure Fighting] video series makes heavy use of this wind up.

Broken rhythm
This is where the aforementioned „no way out“ scenarios come into play. Once you’ve figured out your opponent’s rhythm, you can easily break it and attack in a way that gives him no chance to escape. Consider the bouncing movement exhibited by most professional fighters. As long as the knees are bent and both feet have contact with the ground, the fighter is in a perfect position for just about everything. However, once the knees are extended and the feet are airborne, there are no ground reaction forces that permit translational movement. Hence, that’s the perfect moment to strike. Same thing just right after a step or a strike. If you’ve been paying attention now, you may have realized that in the end, an attack is very much like a counter – it all depends on the right timing. So, to train the feeling for proper timing, I usually have one partner „bounce“ a bit from his fighting stance and have the other partner throw roundhouse kicks. Again, just as in the first drill (regarding non-telegraphic striking), the bouncing partner’s task is to escape the kick if he can. At first, the bounce is an actual jump and over the course of the drill, it becomes smaller and smaller until it becomes „natural“, i.e., just the fighter’s normal bounce. Due to the progressive nature of this drill, there are very few missed kicks involved, so the knees don’t suffer a lot. This is a huge difference to just pulling away a kicking pad. Extrapolating this concept to all types of movement, not just bounces, is again something the fighter has to learn during sparring sessions.

Here you go – non-telegraphic striking, Obfuscation and Broken rhythm as core concepts at the bottom of each attack. Later on, you can explore advanced stuff such as combinations, which implements all of those concepts. As always, though, first excel at the basics. In the coming weeks, better attacks will be the top topic at our [Dojo] –  why not drop in and train with us? Looking forward to meeting you on the mat,

so long,

take care

PS: I don’t have access to fast Internet ATM, that’s why this one doesn’t contain any original graphical material. Once I’m back on-line, there’ll be a video or two on the topic.

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