Fighting like a girl
Fight like a girl? What is that all about? In a real street situation, it is called being intelligent. When most men train for self-defense, there is this vision of going at it hand to hand, until the assailant is laying in a heap, defeated. Let’s get real. A real attacker is not going to attack unless he feels that he has an advantage. He is not in it for the glory of overcoming the odds. He wants to beat you and humiliate you. He may want your money, he may want your life. One thing he doesn’t want is to pick on someone who may give him a fight. This means that the person who will attack you will either have a weapon, a couple buddies, or will be significantly larger than you. If we are going to be REAL, we will REALize that dealing with a weapon or multiple opponents is very, very difficult. We must train to deal with these situations to improve our odds of survival, but the weapon or multiple opponents give a huge advantage to the attacker(s).
A larger, stronger attacker is difficult to deal with, but this type of assailant makes an assumption. He assumes that his size and strength give him an advantage over his victim. Fortunately for us, skill and proper tactics can overcome this sort of disadvantage. But what kind of skill should we develop? I believe that we should begin with those techniques, trained with progressive resistance, which are most effective in nullifying the size advantage of the attacker.
I am fortunate to have a group of women who train in my classes in Honolulu. These women train very hard, and have a great time doing it. They partner amongst themselves, and with the men. We practice in all the ranges (kickboxing, clinch, and ground), most of the time spent in light sparring. The women in class have helped me tremendously in changing the women’s curriculum, prioritizing those techniques that work when the opponent is much larger. They don’t just learn techniques, the try to apply the techniques against someone who is trying foil every attempt. The skill level of each woman has continually improved, and the consistently surprise guest students with their skills. Well, as obvious as it is, a big breakthrough in our training was staring at me in the face, but it was only recently that I actually saw it.
For years I would train men one way while guiding the women in a different manner. The basics were pretty much the same, but strength techniques that were taught to men were modified or skipped altogether for the women. I had it backwards. Instead of modifying techniques to work for women, I now prioritize those techniques that work best against a larger stronger opponent. Therefore, men and women learn the same curriculum, with a few modifications on positioning.
I am sure that many will say that most systems prioritize techniques that work against bigger opponents, but the truth is that many of those techniques are hard to actually apply against a large opponent who is really fighting back. The JKD Unlimited women test the techniques against larger opponents every class. If a woman faces an attacker, we always emphasize escape. The woman must do whatever it takes to go home safely. The same goes for the men. If we face a much larger opponent, we should do what we must to escape. This changes the prioritization of techniques. Instead of looking for the finish, we look for a way out. If there is no escape, we work hard to finish the fight. Still, we must realize that a strong, aggressive opponent who significantly outweighs you requires different techniques and tactics than when dealing with a sparring partner of similar weight.
When a large opponent is coming at you hard, kickboxing range doesn’t last very long. There is so much forward momentum and so little time that standard kickboxing doesn’t apply well against a rushing attacker. Kickboxing matches start out at a certain range and tend to maintain that range. An angry attacker tends to move forward very quickly, getting into punching and clinch range immediately. The primary emphasis is on evasion and dealing with that aggressive onslaught.
Clinch range must be tested against larger opponents. Wrist locks, standing arm locks, and many takedowns in the clinch are nearly impossible against a large, aggressive opponent. We first work on techniques to avoid being taken to the ground, along with maneuvers to offset the opponent’s mass. Techniques that may be prioritized in a wrestling match may not work well against the big guy. Moves like the arm drag work well against larger opponents. Pulling the arm and passing by the elbow not only gets you to the back, but also provides an escape route.
Ground techniques have to be prioritized to deal with the opponent’s weight and ability to lift us off the ground. If a woman tries to arm bar a large man from the guard, he may stand and slam her. We must be very aware of these dangers, and so we first emphasize positions and techniques that keep distance and provide the opportunity to escape. This is why we now teach the butterfly guard first. Instead of wrapping the legs around a larger opponent, we put the feet inside their thighs to keep the weight off. It is also much easier to get back to your feet from the butterfly guard. We work the closed guard a little later for more attacks, but this works best against someone who is close to your own weight or smaller.
Want to be effective in a self-defense situation? Then I say to train like a girl, and if need be, fight like a girl. Watch our women train and spar and you will see what I mean.
© Burton Richardson. Originally published in Inside Kung Fu Magazine January 2003
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