Monday, August 11, 2008

I came here for an argument!

It’s Thursday night and I’ve just finished teaching class. We started with stretching, followed by basics, moved into hyung (forms/patterns/kata), did a little bag work, and finished with some light sparring. Two green belts (6th gup) began (as instructed) by bowing to each other, stepping into Ready Position, then stepping with their right feet back into Fighting Position. At this point they were about five feet apart.

Five feet apart? That’s not a fight. At five feet apart; that’s an argument! According to Monty Python, an argument is a connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition. Arguments can be five minutes in length or take a full half hour. Fights are faster and happen much closer. Junior belts have a lot of trouble with this concept. They want to spar far apart from each other and then strike like a guided missile from across the room. Ah – it doesn’t work like that.

We’re often taught that animals instinctively know how to fight and that humans are an exception. Humans, unless trained, are terrible at fighting we are told. Yet, I find that there are certain fundamental fighting concepts which are well entrenched into our subconscious. For instance, take a look on YouTube and watch some of the spontaneous fights/brawls that have been recorded. I’m not talking about professional boxing matches; I mean the videos of amateur and school yard fist fights.

A typical fight begins with a flurry of wild punches or slaps from both participants, followed by one of them (usually the eventual winner) grabbing hold of the other and then rapidly hitting them again and again. It is not pretty, but it is instructive. The one who is able to grab and strike is instinctively employing a series of important self defense concepts.

First, fights happen up close. Fights are very fast. The fighter who controls the distance and the timing usually wins. Of all of these basic/instinctive fundamentals; controlling the distance is the most critical. Pragmatically this means that defending yourself is absolutely dependant on you not being held/controlled by the opponent. At all costs do not let them control the distance or tug/pull you against your will.

This does not mean that you should never let your opponent grab you. Look at it this way. If someone grabs you with their left hand and tries to hit you with their right, they have only one fist with which to strike. You have two with which to strike them back; or one hand to block their strikes and one other hand with which to hit them. If you’ve followed the math here, you have one more striking fist than does your attacker.

Generally, I don’t want anyone grabbing or holding me – I’ve seen others use being held to their advantage, but I pretty much always break the grab as soon as it is attempted. Tang Soo Do is a defensive art, and I teach defense first; safety, get away, and attack only as a means to escape harm.

More to the point, the successful martial artist will control the distance between himself and their attacker. While sounding simplistic, there is a lot that goes into distance control, beginning with knowing how long your arms and legs are, and understanding just how to maximize your reach while minimizing your opponent’s.

For instance, the reach of a front leg round kick can be extended up to 12 inches by turning the foot on the ground so that the heal points towards the attacker. Let’s assume you are in a classic fighting stance with the right foot back. The feet are about one foot apart and they should line up like the letter ‘L’. The toes of the left foot point directly at your opponent, and the toes of the right (back foot) pointing 90 degrees (perpendicular) away.

The round kick is executed by bringing the left knee up, pivoting the hips and striking the opponent with the left foot. When the hips are pivoted, the foot on the ground, the right one, also pivots on the balls so that the heel of the right foot points towards the opponent. This pivot action, along with a little skip if necessary can easily move you 12” to 18” closer to the target. This has the two-fold benefit of keeping you too far away for them to strike you, but giving you the needed reach at the opportune moment.

Similar strategies can be employed with other kicks and punches as well. Remember, which ever fighter controls the distance, controls the fight – and will ultimately win.

So the next time someone says to you, “shut your festering gob, you tit! Your type makes me puke! You vacuous toffee-nosed malodorous pervert!”, you will know that’s it either time to control the distance, or someone is just quoting Monty Python’s “The Argument” skit.


  1. Some of what you said is true. But the first thing a person has to deal with is the fear or, the fight or flight theory. A lot of people in a fight are trying to think out there attacks and not just react. So the distance your seeing is the fight or flight at work. What you need to is make sure there not afraid of being struck.

  2. I completely agree. Learning to take a hit is important, if for no other reason that to learn that you *can* get hit and survive. Some people are more afraid of the potential hit than the actual hit. I worry more about going to the dentist than actually being there. Sometimes, in my sparring classes, I'll have one of the fighters just execute defensive maneuvers. They always report that when they thought about it defensively, the fight seemed to slow down and they were better able to find vulnerabilities. I agree with you; learning to take a hit and still fight on is an important lesson - I think that is one of the benefits of sparring, especially at tournaments.


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