Soft Targets: The Achilles Heel of Sport Based Fighting Systems

It seems rude to point out, almost like bringing attention to the finely dressed woman at the party, replete with the best fashions, that she has something stuck between her teeth. But the vast majority of martial systems today are suffering from a glaring weakness. And, lest you think that by vast majority I am merely throwing words around, and the problem isn’t all that bad, be certain that 99 in 100 martial artists are suffering from this. And this may even be a generous, soft-peddling of the problem.

The problem, for the most part, is that martial arts have gone the way of martial sports. Some have eschewed the primacy of attacking and defending the body’s weakest areas for the idiotic sake of complexity too – they just think other stuff is more cool, which is like a man getting attacked in an alley by a gang and whipping out his trusty nunchucks instead of a Glock 9MM because the aforementioned rice-beaters are way cooler. Such is the insanity of a man throwing a reverse kick rather than an eye-jab.

It’s these twin terrors that have utterly decimated modern martial arts from being what a martial art was and is meant to be: a fighting system, instead of a cool martial athletic club. And that’s exactly what most schools are because they’re focusing on things that aren’t essential to all-out fighting. What is? Well, for goodness sake, it’s scientifically attacking and defending the softies – the eyes, throat, groin, shins and knees.

Now listen, I’m sure this is going to offend many out there because we all have our favorites, but this isn’t about a match in a ring or a cage or even a sparring match at the school on any given Wednesday night. This is about survival, pure and simple. If two thugs attack you, helter-skelter ambush style, throwing haymakers and looking to do serious damage and then stomp your head into the pavement after they knock you down, and you’re fighting with rules then you have a serious oversight impeding your success. And, remember, success and failure in this instance could very well mean life or death. So, I’m terribly sorry to have to throw some methods under the bus, but in the name of the truth and your safety, these things need to be considered.

The Attribute Paradox

A person’s physical size, strength, movement speed, timing, endurance, flexibility and pain tolerance all play huge roles in their success as a fighter. Don’t ever believe otherwise. As JKD students we should train intensely as if these were the only qualities determining whether or not we live or die while at the same time developing tactics and techniques that reduce our dependence on attributes as much as possible.

The reason for this seeming contradiction is simple: if we fight in such a way that requires us to be the better athlete in the fight and, for whatever reason we are not, then we have horrible problems. Conversely, if we ignore physical conditioning and tell ourselves that we’re going to just kick a dude in the nuts and be done with it, and we miss, or he eats the shot and keeps fighting, then we’ve created another grave conundrum for ourselves. Both are needed. The proof of this is in the body and work of Bruce Lee himself. He trained like a professional fighter, was a superlative athlete, and yet ruthlessly attacked the key areas of the enemy. JKD reconciles these two – attributes and real fighting tactics so as not to be overconfident and/or unprepared in either area. To my knowledge, no other fighting method does this quite so well, with so much logic.

For example, it can easily be argued that some of the finest conditioned athletes on the planet – some of the physically toughest – are modern MMA fighters. I can personally attest to their grit, determination and skill. Owning a martial arts school with MMA fighters in it, I routinely get a chance to see some of these fighters up close and personal and I marvel at their pursuit of excellence and devotion. Boxers and kickboxers too…they are outstanding athletic warriors and we should be encouraged by them – us martial artists – to train hard and be in the best condition we can.

But there have been many examples in the cage where one fighter “accidentally” pokes his opponent in the eye. (We must note that some fighters have this happen too many times for it not to be an intentional act on their part, but that is another story). Nevertheless, whenever a wayward finger jabs an eye there is always a terrific response. The recipient howls in pain, covers his eye with his hands and hops around like a toddler in pain. Yes! A great and world-class fighter reduced to this by a finger in the eye. Naturally, this causes a break in the action too – giving the stricken fighter a chance to recover himself. This same scene happened as long ago as the first Ali-Frazier fight in March of 1971 when the ref accidentally poked Frazier in the eye as he endeavored to break up a clinch. Frazier, who had taken hundreds of sharp blows to the head from Ali all night, unfazed, was quickly hopping and howling after the middle-aged refs finger caught him.

The same happens when low blows land in both MMA and boxing matches as well. You see, no matter how well conditioned these fighters are, there is literally no way to toughen one’s eyes or village people. There just isn’t. It’s not possible. You can marvel at a Muay Thai fighter kicking a tree with his shin bone all you want but know this: his guys are open before and after every kick. Bruce Lee saw this and we should too. And this is precisely why there are no Muay Thai round kicks dominating real JKD practice. Again, it goes back to trading in your handgun for an Okinawan farm tool. Why waste all that time getting good at something not as effective? It makes no sense unless you’re ego driven and want to wow people with all that power. Or, you just love throwing the round kick like that, which is fine as long as you know that it isn’t the most practical means of defending yourself.

At this point there’s bound to be the dissenter that will bellow on about how some champion or another can round kick a house in half. Well, this very well might be true but the truly valid question as to self-defense is whether or not you can do that. In either event, maybe your Thai idol can truly kick that hard but one has to conclude that kicking a man in the groin is always better than kicking him so hard that you could knock his house down. All else being equal, no man’s thigh is less prepared for a strike than his fellas. Moreover, and this mustn’t be forgotten – in throwing the roundhouse kick we have to expose our own groin. But throwing a good groin kick yourself can keep you maximally covered.

JKD, being a true fistic science of self-defense, is not trying to win matches. It’s designed to help weaker men and women survive violent encounters with enemy’s that have attribute advantages on them.

Thus, it logically and ruthlessly targets the eyes, throat, groin, shins and knees, while using footwork and timing to protect their own targets. If the JKD fighter, properly trained, discovers during the encounter that they are indeed the better athlete, so much the easier for them, but they never assume such a thing. One groin strike can incapacitate a fellow, maybe even kill him. Most methods today don’t even bother defending this. It’s like the Death Star floating along with a big red-spot on its exterior, virtually undefended. Certainly, since its so wide-open and hardly defended, one doesn’t have to use the Force to attack it.

So, no, we’re not saying that a JKD student should avoid the vigorous work of training like a fighter. He should. We should strive to be in better shape than sport fighters, in fact. Our founder – that ridiculously ripped fellow in all the movies that inspired us – was. We should be like him and get in the best shape we can be in. But, also, we need to train like this while avoiding becoming a sport fighter. We’ll cover this more as we go and it has everything to do with the right attitude (starting here) and the ready position, footwork and weaponry integration that only JKD offers the modern warrior. This way, in the end, we can hang with the sport fighters in terms of conditioning, timing and emotional toughness, but we are eye-jabbing, groin kicking machines. Lee was a professional; his JKD followers of the current generation should be too. But he was a warrior, not a sport fighter and we must remember that as well or else JKD becomes diluted and unfit for the realities of real world violence – life and death, not victory or defeat; and not unanimous decision or split decision, but safety or morgue.