Making sense of street vs sport

by Burton Richardson December 10, 2016

There is no doubt about it. The well-trained modern No Holds Barred (NHB) or Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) athlete is a fighting machine. He or she can fight very well in the kickboxing, clinch, and ground ranges. Athletes in the sport of MMA train to fight skilled opponents through the use of striking, throwing, and submission holds. Rules prohibiting headbutts, eye strikes, groin attacks, biting, and other tactics are in place for the safety of the participants, but other than these constraints the fights are real as they get. Competitors prepare for the sporting event through rigorous training. Sparring against uncooperative opponents is the main method of preparation, along with massive conditioning. Without sparring in all of the ranges, the fighters would be lost when matched against a skillful opponent. Bottom line: the training methods work. It is from my extensive training in MMA and full contact stickfighting that I was able to distill the JKD Unlimited philosophy of training into one phrase. That phrase is: “If you want to learn how to fight you have to practice fighting against someone who is fighting back!” This is what the MMA athlete does daily. Now, what happens if such an athlete, who trains within the rules of the sport, has to take on an aggressive street attacker outside of the ring or cage where there are no referees? In the great majority of incidents the trained fighter is going to dominate the situation. (An ambush from behind is another story, but no type of training will help you there.) Why? Because all fights take place in the kickboxing, clinch, or ground ranges, and often within all of the aforementioned distances. Someone trained in all of these ranges will generally prevail over an adversary who can only bring aggression to the fight, even without the use of “street” tactics.On the other side of the equation, you have probably heard of many instances where traditional martial artists who spend most of their time practicing forms and static technique sequences, along with limited sparring, have been overwhelmed in a self-defense situation. Even though the traditional martial artist had eye strikes and groin attacks in his arsenal, he wasn’t actually able to apply his training when real resistance came crashing down on him. So if the MMA fighter fares much better than the traditional martial artist in a real fight, we can come to a logical conclusion. If a main goal of your training is to develop usable self-defense skills, you should then train in the sport of MMA. This is where we at JKD Unlimited have a different point of view. The reason MMA fighters can fight well is because of the training methodology of practicing against a resisting partner in all of the ranges. This is the key to skill development. Knowing the techniques is not enough. You must develop the skills necessary to be able to apply your techniques against someone who does not want you to succeed. Is a real attacker going to resist you? Of course he will. The true art of self-defense lies in your ability to overcome that resistance, not just in memorizing a litany of deadly techniques. You can learn the punches and defenses of boxing rather quickly, but just because you can demonstrate them doesn’t mean that you are ready to fight the champ. You have to learn the techniques, and then practice them in the proper environment to prepare yourself for combat. Once you know how to train correctly you must direct that training to address the “rules” of the event you are training for. In MMA, different fighting organizations have different rules. Some fights allow headbutts, kicking a downed fighter in the head, and elbow strikes. These tactics are illegal in other organizations. Fighters adjust their training to allow for the rules. As the rules change, the training and tactics change. If you are primarily interested in the self-defense aspects of the martial arts, then I believe that you should train for the “rules” of the street. As we all know, there is only one rule, and that is that “There are no rules.” Some will say that this is all nonsense, and that your best bet is to just train as an MMA fighter would train. You are probably never going to get attacked on the street anyway. If you do get attacked, the theory is that you can spontaneously adjust to that environment and add in the foul tactics. That theory needs to be examined. The entire principle of training is to create habits within our bodies so that we will not have to think about what we are doing in a stressful situation. We want our bodies to be able to automatically react in a positive and safe manner when under the stress of combat. Let’s go back to that theory that if you are in a street fight you can spontaneously adjust to the lack of rules. My question is this: If you don’t train to protect your groin, what would prompt you to think about doing that in a real fight? Answer: A solid groin hit! Do you want to wait until you are kicked in the groin to adjust your clinch stance? Do you want to wait to start protecting your eyes until after you have been gouged? No. If we are talking self-defense, this attitude of training for the sport then making an instantaneous adjustment in the midst of a street attack is dangerously backwards. In JKD Unlimited we do the following: We train primarily for the street environment, and then make adjustments to the training for those who want to enter competitions. We play in all the ranges against a resisting partner, just as we do in MMA sport training, but we always have the street tactics included as we do our training. The idea of training one way, then making a spontaneous adjustment to a mode that you don’t train is not practical. It would be like training solely in submission grappling when you are preparing to enter an MMA competition. With this philosophy, you would say “I am going to work on my takedowns, guard passes, and submissions without any strikes allowed. Then when I get in the match, I will just adjust to the striking.” We all know that this does not work. You have to train for the parameters of the event. You don’t only train collegiate wrestling techniques if you are going into a submission wrestling match. You wouldn’t just train boxing if you are fighting in a Muay Thai kickboxing match, just as you wouldn’t only train kickboxing if you are going into MMA. When you change the rules of the event, the techniques, tactics, training methods, and structure must change to accommodate the particular rules. As effective as sport-oriented MMA is, you should go beyond MMA if you are training to be prepared for the arena of street self-defense. One drawback of the including the street tactics is that you can’t actually gouge your partner’s eyes or hit him hard in the groin. But you usually don’t actually try to knock out your partner in training either. Great thing about grappling is that you can apply your technique at full tilt with minimal risk of injury. Does this mean that we don’t add striking to the face because it isn’t at full intensity? No. We can also add eye strikes, groin hits, and simulated bites to the training in a safe, fun manner to play the game at the street self-defense level. BJJ, kickboxing, and MMA can be very effective in a street fight, but the best MMA fighters don’t just train BJJ or Muay Thai or Greco Roman. They cross train specifically for the event. We cross train with MMA style training methods, but with the street environment as our first priority. This can be done by anyone of any level of physicality. We adjust the intensity of the training to suit the individual’s current physical condition and goals. It is extremely fun, healthy, and mind expanding. If you aren’t planning to compete in the sporting event, but want street self-defense, I suggest that you train primarily for the street environment.


Burton Richardson
Burton Richardson

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